A few months ago, I opened the mail and saw an old medical bill.
Although it was only for $30, I was shocked to find that it was from over a year ago! Not only that, but it came with a big, bold warning: FINAL NOTICE. DUE IMMEDIATELY.
I’ve always thought that I was a pretty responsible person when it came to paying what I owe. But I’ve learned that even I need help with medical bills from time to time.
Unlike most debts, medical debt isn’t quite as easy to understand. It involves everything from strange billing due dates to confusing billing practices. So if you’re looking for guidance and help with medical bills, here’s what you need to know.
Do medical bills hurt your credit?
If you’re wondering if unpaid medical bills hurt your credit, the easy answer is yes. But that’s not the complete story.
Many hospitals and healthcare providers do not directly report a missed payment. Instead, they use collection agencies to attempt to settle a debt. These third-parties then report your unpaid bill when it is not settled.
Unfortunately, unpaid medical debt is common. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reported a few years ago that more than 50 percent of debt on a credit report was medical-related and that the average overdue bill is $1,000.
The CFPB also notes in its report how confusing medical billing processes are one of the main reasons why credit scores are brought down significantly when there’s a failure to pay.
However, managing medical debt and understanding how to get help with medical bills is easier said than done. But by utilizing these methods below, you can organize your finances, fight back against inaccurate bills, and find the assistance you need to pay down your medical debts.
6 methods for managing your medical debt
1. Catch the errors
Being skeptical of your medical debt can help with medical bills by keeping you on top of the statements you receive.
In all cases, you should request an itemized bill before you pay it. Then, comb through the list for procedures that look unfamiliar or medications you did not approve.
If you see something questionable, start an appeals process through both the hospital and your health insurance company.
2. Save your EOB
With every bill comes an explanation of benefits (EOB). An EOB lays out the procedures you were billed for, as well as how your insurance benefits were applied.
It will also show you how your medical bill was applied to your deductible or out-of-pocket costs. This is why it’s important to request an itemized bill from your medical provider every time.
Attach your itemized bill to the corresponding EOB and review it. Keeping them together will also help you avoid any confusion on what bills have been taken care of by your insurance and which are still coming due or need to be appealed.
3. Document everything
When it comes to medical care, you’re not being billed for just one visit each and every time. A physical exam may turn into a strep test and a flu shot, all of which may be billed by several different providers.
Keeping a journal or diary of the dates of your medical care, the doctors you saw, and the basic procedures you help you predict what kind of medical debt is coming your way.
Also, be sure to keep each and every document you sign. Because of the confusion with outsourcing to private physicians, many medical providers now require you to acknowledge you’ll be billed by a third party provider. Keeping this form can save confusion and time in the future.
4. Go digital for extra help
Most hospitals and providers have caught on to how hard it is to manage medical debt.
That’s why many now put their bills online via web portals so that patients can access them at any time. Some even include lists of medical services, providers’ names, and dates of visits to make it even easier.
However, if you still struggle with the actual bill portion, or if your doctor doesn’t provide you with an online system, try apps like Simplee. They link with your healthcare provider to simplify your bill, set up payment plans, and organize your accounts.
5. Set up a bi-weekly payment date
If you’re swamped with piles of medical bills with different due dates, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed trying to keep it all together.
Instead of trying to separate things out by dates due or when you received the bill, set up a specific bill pay date.
For example, if you have three bills due on the 3rd, 9th, and 12th of the month, schedule your bill pay date for the 30th of the month prior and submit all the payments at the same time.
6. Make copies of submitted payments
Medical debt differs from other bills because it often requires multiple payments. And they may have to be done via a mailed-in check or credit card charge.
First and foremost, keep any and all receipts of payment. Not only are they important for proving payment, they also help when submitting an adjustment to income on your taxes for medical and dental expenses.
Secondly, make multiple copies of any check or credit card information sent in along with the original bill. Request receipts sent via mail several days after sending them in to confirm that they were received.
Then, attach to the itemized bill and EOB so that everything is linked up.
Where to go when you need help with medical bills
If you’re unable to pay, your first call should be to the hospital or provider.
Explain your financial situation and express your desire to pay your debt down as fast as possible. You may even be able to request monthly payment plans or renegotiate a bill on a sliding scale if you can prove financial need.
In the case of a large bill, you can even attempt to request a bill paid in full by paying a large percentage of it in full on the spot. Hospitals may be willing to work with what you have if you ask well in advance of your due date, or for special circumstances.
For me, receiving that unexpected medical bill was a wake-up call that I needed help with medical bills.
By saving every medical document I receive, searching for mistakes in my statements, and setting up a bill pay date, I have become more consistent with making my doctor bills a bigger priority. I’ve also been able to increase my chances of upping my credit score.
While it may take time and a bit of effort using the above methods, it’s so worth it when it comes to improving my overall medical (and financial) health.
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