Don’t Pay Your Medical Bills!
Until You Do These Five Things First…
It’s happened more times than I can count. I sit down to pay medical bills. As I start to really dig into some of them I have lots of questions, and each one will require time and effort, along with a phone call or two or five. This is the life of a caregiver and patient advocate. Here are some tips to help ease the burden a bit.
Take Time Out to Review
Medical bills are not something to just pay without digging into them. These invoices must be reviewed carefully. Check each line item. Was each service on the bill performed while you were at the visit/procedure? Did you receive the item being billed?
This takes time and thought as invoices are reviewed. It can be helpful to take notes at doctors’ appointments. This helps with a fuzzy memory about details! Consider a notebook or a designated file on your computer to keep track of details on appointment and equipment orders.
It’s a tedious task but one that requires attention and thought. Try and set aside some designated time to review invoices and make notes for follow up. I usually take on the bills every two weeks, as I just don’t have the energy for much more.
Ask Questions About the Charges
Does something look off? Does something not feel right? Trust your gut!
If something is in question, pick up the phone and call the customer service number provided on the bill.
More often than not, if you’ve got your ducks in a row and you are prepared for the call, the rep will have the bill reviewed to ensure that all of the charges are correct, and sometimes you could even be owed money back.
IMPORTANT: Be prepared and be persistent. Know your stuff and speak with confidence. Many times I’ve discussed a bill with the first person who answered the phone. They might just try and give me the run around or a quick answer. When pressed, people usually pass the call to a superior or specialist, or they take more time to review.
It might take some time for them to follow up, but if you’ve got any question, my advice is to wait to get answers before paying a bill you feel uneasy about. I’ve found it easier to wait a bit and keep that invoice in my ‘to do’ pile, versus trying to get a refund back later. Be mindful of your credit!
I can’t stress this one enough. It can be a pain in the butt but you’ll thank me later!
Any time you make or receive a call related to billing or equipment, be sure to note the date, time and with whom you spoke. Make a quick note of the conversation and any actions that were to be taken by the billing company/doctor’s office and by you. Be sure to follow up on promised actions per your conversation.
As I mentioned, it’s also great idea to take notes at all doctor, clinic, etc. appointments. With whom are you coming in contact? What is the nurse’s name, what took place at the appointment?
I either take a notepad or keep notes in my phone. I’ve found it more than useful on many occasions. I even write down things people say that raise a red flag with me, or something I might want to research at a later time.
Caregiving is stressful and along with the sleep deprivation it often messes with my memory so I find that taking notes saves me time and frustration later. It’s also nice to have names and roles noted. Over time you can build a network of those you find most helpful and knowledgeable.
Be Mindful of Your Credit
Medical bills are a strange thing when it comes to credit. Some get reported to the credit bureaus and some don’t. Some creditors take medical bills seriously and some are more lenient when it comes to them, depending on certain factors.
Either way, they can still wreak havoc on your credit, most certainly when other bills can’t get paid. Call the billing department and ask if and when they report to the credit bureaus and make note of each one. This can help prioritize who gets paid first.
And sometimes your credit is just going to take a hit. Better it be medical than other things such as mortgage, car and utilities. Those should come first.
Ask for Help
If they do report to the credit bureaus and you’re unable to pay by the due date, ask about extensions, settlements or anything else they might offer to help give you time and protect your credit. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand and ask for help. It can be difficult to do but also can be well worth it!
Explain your situation to the person. Remember, it’s a person on the other end. They have a job to do but it’s a person. Be polite and keep in mind they’re doing their job. If someone says no, don’t be afraid to question the no and ask for a Supervisor or Manager.
It’s nothing personal. You have a job to do as well, and that’s to ensure you’re not paying money that you do not owe, or that you don’t have to.
So many times I’ve been told no, only to push back a bit (in a nice way) and get something done. A lot of the times an exception can be made, it’s just a matter of getting to the right person with the right authority level.
Sadly, one of the biggest burdens with being sick is having to deal with insurance and the system. It’s frustrating and stressful and demoralizing on top of the nightmare of an acute illness. It takes up so much time to avoid overpaying after having already paid in so much. Insurance has become such an ironic disservice to us all.
Good luck to those of you dealing with insurance and medical bills! Feel free to share your stories and tips in the comments.