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Prevent Medical Bill Shock With These Tips

    Paying off a hospital bill can be a stressful experience, particularly if you don't have health insurance. But medical emergencies happen, and the reality is that some people don't have enough to pay expensive monthly premiums. While it may be easy to charge the entire bill to your credit card and hope for the best, there are better ways to tackle huge medical bills.

     Negotiate your hospital or prosthetic bills like a pro with these tips.

    In this article, we break down options you can tap to help you avoid as much debt as possible.

    Don't put things off  

    When you barely make ends meet, it can be easy to give in to your anxiety and avoid thinking about your medical bill until it's due. But if you wish to negotiate your bill, beginning the process as soon as possible is crucial. Negotiating payment terms when the due date is looming is much more challenging than having weeks to work with.

    First, avoid paying with a credit card when you receive an explanation of benefits or a bill. Hospital bills typically are sent to a collections agency after some time, so you have time to negotiate your bill with the hospital before paying.  

    If you haven't gotten the treatment or procedure yet, you can begin negotiating your bill beforehand. If you have health insurance, call your insurer and determine how much your health plan will cover. Once you know how much you'll pay out-of-pocket, talk to your hospital's or prosthetic facility's billing department to see your options.

    Review your bill for errors  

    Errors on medical bills are more common than you might think. According to Becker's Hospital Review, about 80% of medical bills are estimated to contain a billing error. This is an alarming statistic.

    Among the most common billing errors include wrong billing codes, duplicate charges, unbundled charges, incorrect billing for a service you've never received, and upcoding. The latter happens when your diagnosis is blown up from your actual condition, which leads to a hospital or medical provider billing you for more expensive procedures or treatments than you need.

    Make sure to request an itemized bill, which provides in-depth descriptions of the services you received, including the medical codes on your explanation of benefits. This makes it easier to spot any mistakes.

    Inquire about financial assistance  

    Most hospitals and health systems are required by the federal government and state laws to provide financial assistance to people who can't afford a treatment or procedure considered "medically necessary." This includes emergency room visits and in-patient hospital stays.  

    But if you have Medicare, Medicaid, or other health insurance, use those benefits before availing of any financial assistance program.  

    If your hospital offers financial assistance, you need to apply for it. This may involve gathering documents showing your income proof, tax returns, budget, and assets. You can still file for an appeal if your application is denied.

    Research the insured rate  

    Health providers sometimes charge uninsured patients more than insured patients. This is because insurance companies negotiate for lower prices on behalf of the patient.

    If you don't have health insurance, you can still advocate for yourself with the help of online tools like FAIR Health, where you can find the estimated cost of a medical procedure in your area, or Healthcare Bluebook, which can help you determine if you've been overcharged.

    Another way to lower your hospital bill is by offering to pay upfront. Many hospitals will negotiate a lower cost if you agree to pay that discounted amount immediately.

    Request a payment plan  

    Rather than paying your entire medical or prosthetic bill at once, a payment plan allows you to break the total into several monthly installments. Hospital bills are typically interest-free, so making an installment payment with your hospital will be more affordable than paying your monthly credit card bill.

    Check your health accounts or employer  

    Check if you can pay for the service you received with your health accounts—health savings accounts (HSA) and health flexible spending accounts (FSA). Also, check with your employer if they have a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA).

    Check if your employer has a health stipend  

    Some companies offer a health stipend, meaning they can reimburse you for the rest of the bill not covered by your health accounts, insurance, or financial assistance.

    Health stipends are taxable benefits, which is why there are fewer restrictions on eligibility. The stipend will appear on your W-2 as income.

    Your last resort  

    If all else fails, you should see if you qualify for a 0% annual percentage rate credit card and charge your hospital bill on that card. This can help you get interest-free payments for 12 to 18 months. Furthermore, medical credit cards typically offer lower interest rates, making paying your bill manageable.