Can you negotiate your COVID-19 hospital bills?

smallAs health insurance companies withdrew their COVID-19-related hospital waivers, a COVID-19 hospitalization could lead to a surprisingly high bill from healthcare providers, according to a recent study from the University of Michigan and the University of Michigan. of Boston.

Of those who had private insurance from March 2020 to March 2021 and were charged for COVID-19 treatment, the average out-of-pocket costs it was almost $ 4,000. Among people with Medicare Advantage, the average bill was about $ 1,600. This included hospital care and doctor services.

It can be stressful to have a high medical bill for something that is out of control, especially if a COVID-19 case has prevented you from working for a while or left you with health problems. However, hospital bills can sometimes be adjusted or traded down. Here are some strategies you can try.

Organize COVID-19 hospital bills

Gather your materials, including all your bills, your insurance card, and any explanations of the benefits you have received. Check your COVID-19 hospital bills and make sure you recognize all charges.

“Do you remember where you did this MRI?” says AnnMarie McIlwain, CEO of Patient Advocators in New Jersey. (Patient advocates help clients with medical challenges, from finding the right treatment to handling billing and insurance issues.) “Did you really talk to this gastroenterologist?” “There are often charges on accounts that are fake, that should not exist.”

Also, check again that each claim appears to have been processed correctly by your insurer. Typically, a completed claim will show a plan discount and the allowable claim amount, plus any plan payment, if you have met the discount for the year.

“If you do not see payment or adjustment, they may not have applied,” said Jennifer Kastner, owner of Patient Advocacy Solutions in Georgia. Your insurance company may also have denied the claim, so contact your insurer before you start working on an account adjustment.

Note: An Explanation of Benefits, or EOB, is a statement from your health insurance company telling you how the company covers the medical care you received. It is not an account.

Ask for financial help

If you are dealing with a larger medical bill than you can handle, call the hospital billing office and ask if you qualify for financial assistance or relief. This is sometimes called charity.

“The worst they can say is ‘No,'” said Caitlin Donovan, a spokeswoman for the Virginia-based Patient Advocate Foundation.

If you are planning to get help, you will need some basic financial numbers. “You want to know in general how much you make in a year, what you can afford to pay annually and what you can pay in advance,” says Donovan.

You can also ask for a payment plan, which will allow you to pay your hospital bill over time. Generally, these do not charge interest, so it is a better option than putting a large medical charge on your credit card or taking out a loan. “You do not have to worry about medical bills appearing on a credit report, which is not what you want,” says Donovan.

Just make sure you can handle the monthly payment in the long run. “You do not want to be in a situation where you can not afford to pay this bill and end up going to collections or ending up in other parts of your life where you really should not,” Donovan says.

Cash offer

If you are able to offer a cash payment for a large portion of the balance, give it a try.

“Cash is a word they like to hear in the billing office, and if you’re willing to pay something quickly and in cash, they will sometimes give you a discount,” says McIlwain. “I would say 20% [off] would be a good number to suggest. “

That said, McIlwain says that if you feel the bill seems too high to handle, you will probably not be able to make an 80% payment on the balance.

Appeal in person

If you have a local hospital bill and need help, see if it is possible to visit your billing office or billing window.

“It’s a lot harder to not have compassion for someone standing in front of you,” says McIlwain.

If you can not go in person, do your best to stay calm on the phone. Try to make the person on the other end of the phone your ally in your journey to solve this problem. Getting angry or angry is a natural reaction, but it will not help. “They are more willing to try to get you off the phone quickly when you allow the feeling to overwhelm you,” says McIlwain.

Keep good records

Once you have started this process, follow each step. Write everything down in a notebook or keep a digital document or spreadsheet with a note on each phone call, every letter you send, and every person you talk to (and what they say). When sending a message through a patient portal, make a note of it. The better your records, the better equipped you will be to explain how diligently you have worked to maintain your account.

Another tip: When talking to your insurance company, always ask for a reference number.

“These people receive tons of calls a day,” says Kastner. “You want to have reference numbers that you can refer to.”

Get help if you need it

It may happen that, despite your best efforts, you can not settle a mutilated medical bill or find it too overwhelming. A patient advocate may be able to help. This is a person who can make phone calls for you – with your doctors, hospital, insurer and any other parties involved. Usually, patient advocates have experience in areas such as healthcare, insurance and medical billing.

Prices may vary for this. Some organizations charge a flat fee, while others charge a percentage of what they save. The Patient Advocate Foundation is free for patients who have a serious or chronic condition.

“One of the problems with the whole system is that we are talking about people who are sick, tired and have new diagnoses,” says Donovan. “And we ask them to do a lot of work. So it’s always a good idea to ask for help, whether it’s just a family member calling you or asking a professional to help. “

More from NerdWallet

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Leave a Comment