You try to save money, but then an unexpected health problem pops up. Maybe you’re in an accident, maybe you need surgery or another type of medical procedure.
Even though medical insurance is more available now than it used to be, millions of Americans are still uninsured. And even if you are insured, you still likely have high deductibles and copayments that you are responsible for.
How can you save money on medical expenses?
Carefully Go Over All Medical Bills
Many people just accept medical bills as a given and don’t question them. But as consumer reports have revealed, bills — especially hospital bills — can contain mistakes. Look over any medical bills sent to you and check for errors.
Time magazine reports that medical billing errors are common, but you can fight back. Patients should be able to save money on bundling — or grouping together services delivered at the same time — but sometimes the services are billed individually, and the cost is much higher.
Other common errors include billing twice for the same service or product, entering the wrong code and thereby charging for the wrong service or billing patients for charges they do not owe. Some of these issues can be discovered through your insurance company.
For instance, you may see your insurance company denied payment to a provider and you may assume it is because that service is not covered, when in fact it is because the wrong medical coding was used. If your insurance company denied a claim or your provider is billing you for the balance after insurance has paid, call your insurance company to check these charges and find out if they are legitimate.
If you believe you see any billing mistake, call the provider and your insurance company to report the issue. Even if you are 100 percent in the right, you will likely have to make many phone calls to get the error corrected. Keep a log of the phone calls you make — the day, date and time, who you spoke to and what was said. You will need this for subsequent calls.
Do Your Homework to Help Save Money
Find out all you can ahead of time before you agree to any subsequent doctor’s visits or procedures. Do you absolutely need this procedure or surgery? If so, does it need to be done right away or can it wait?
You may want to get a second opinion on any type of procedure that seems too drastic or involved to you. And even if you decide to go ahead with it, you can still check with different doctors and hospitals to see which one has the lowest price.
Other Ways to Save Money on Medical Bills
If you don’t have insurance, or if you are insured through the Affordable Care Act, many doctors and hospitals will write off a portion of their fee, meaning the cost to you is less. If you don’t see this write-off on your bill, ask your provider about it. They may have overlooked it.
Those who have incurred medical bills they are having trouble paying can apply for charity care, which is available from most providers and institutions. Many Americans fall into a gap in which they do not make enough money to be able to afford health insurance, but they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. This can leave them in a precarious position, and charity care can help.
The Healthcare Financial Management Association, a nonprofit for healthcare finance leaders, outlines some criteria on its website for qualifying for charity care. Conditions institutions and providers may consider include:
- Income (based on family size)
- Net worth
- Employment status
- Financial obligations (mortgage, etc.)
- Existing and potential health care bills
If you meet the criteria outlined by your provider, you may have to pay only a percentage of your bill, rather than the full amount.
Save Money with an HSA
Whereas a health savings account is not technically a discount on medical expenses, it can help you save money. An HSA allows you to deposit pre-tax dollars into an account, then pay medical bills out of that account.
For instance, a single individual with no dependents earning $40,000 a year and incurring $1,000 in medical bills can save $150 by using pre-tax dollars in a health savings account. Plug your own numbers into the HSA calculator to see how much you would save.
Having these funds on hand can help you pay your bills quickly, and this in itself can help you save money. A U.S. News and World Report on 5 Expert Tips for Negotiating Your Medical Bills encourages patients to inquire about prompt-pay discounts and other financial assistance offers.
Medical bills can be staggering. The Huffington Post quoted a Harvard University study that found 62 percent of bankruptcy filings are due to overwhelming medical expenses. And 72 percent of these filers had medical insurance, which underlines the fact that it’s not just the uninsured who can’t pay.
You can save money on medical expenses — you just have to know how.