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When Medical Bills Hurt

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When Medical Bills Hurt

Remember my cancer scare back in March? Turns out all those tests were expensive. I’m grateful for the peace of mind, but YIKES. (I can only imagine the medical bills if I’d actually been sick!)

Our health insurance is terrible as a small business, so we have high deductibles. That means that those screenings and ultrasounds and MRIs were pricey. I was so caught up in finding out what was going on, that I didn’t even think about how much it would cost.

And the timing of the bills was bad.

I don’t know when anyone wants to get medical bills like these, but I can say with certainty that during a pandemic is not it. We were already stuck with no income, a broken fridge, a dead car battery, and a slew of other worries, and a $701 bill was the last thing I wanted to see.

I was overwhelmed and just too depressed. So I did the mature thing and I just set the bills aside. I mean, I stacked them on the desk… it’s not like I shredded them, so that’s something, right?

I just couldn’t process them. And I waited so long that I was getting second notices, and in one case even a third. I usually handle paying the medical bills, but I should have confessed to my husband that I was too off my game.

So this week I finally paid them.

I picked up the dreaded stack and got on the phone. Some were small and less painful. $37 is okay. $81, ugh, but doable. But then there was that $701 one.

Gratefully, there was one silver lining:

I have a trick for reducing big medical bills.

Okay, maybe less of a trick and more of a common technique. When I started having regular sinus surgeries several years ago, I read online that doctors and hospitals will often give you a discount if you’re paying in full! It was a revelation to me, but I just couldn’t do it at first. It felt tacky and embarrassing.

But then I thought who am I to feel cheap? We’re broke!

So I tried it. The first time it was over the phone, and it seemed less mortifying. I reached my surgeon’s billing office, and red-faced and apologetic I said, “Is there a discount if I’m paying in full?” Without skipping a beat she said yes, and BOOM—I saved 10%.

Now I ask every time. Sometimes they have to check with a supervisor, and usually it has to be over $100 or more. But I’ve saved between 10-15% again and again. And every little bit helps.

So this week I got 10% off: $701 became $631. Still high, but hey, it’s something.

I keep getting calls, wanting me to schedule another appointment to get another MRI to double check everything on my liver. However, I don’t want to skip into a hospital right now without a really good reason. And let’s be honest, I don’t know if I can handle the cost again!

Do you ever negotiate your medical bills?


20 Comments

  • Reply T'Pol |

    Is an MRI the only way to confirm your status? Can a blood test show if there is a real need for an MRI? I would check that if I were you. My sister has an autoimmune liver disease and I know this cannot be taken lightly. Hopefully, everything is fine with you.

    • Reply Cwaltz |

      I have not negotiated medical bills but I have argued our bills down with the insurance company when a bill was coded a non emergent emergency and they wanted to charge us more than our $100 emergency room copay. The new thing appears to be charging you for the professional and also for the visit. For example, $95 for the Dr and then $100 for the ER visit which seems ridiculous obviously if I am going to your medical facility then yes I expect to see a physician( who by the way the facility is paying as a contractor.)

      • Reply Anonymous |

        that’s not a new thing – that is how medical billing at the facility level works

        • Reply Cwaltz |

          It may not be new to you but it is new to my household. For years my co pay was the cost of a visit to the ER. Period. Now the hospitals are literally shifting the costs of the doctors at their facilities onto patients or even the costs of procedures onto patients. I got charged for “outpatient surgery” when the doctors needed to catheterize me to decipher if blood was coming from my kidneys or from my uterus. Since when is a nurse, a physician performing surgery?

  • Reply Cheryl |

    Our local hospital gives a 15% off if you pay in full. Hey my son had a half decent health insurance and his bill was over $700.00 for a MRI.

  • Reply Cynthia |

    My child has been having some serious medical scares so I am right there with you. Right now tests are generally not being ordered unless they are necessary so please don’t take it lightly. The good news is offices are running on schedule so you are usually in and out and cleanliness is definitely a priority.

    • Reply Sara |

      I’m so sorry.

      This would be a triple check (after an MRI and an ultrasound), but I’m sure I’ll find the mental space to get it done soon.

  • Reply Amanda |

    I cannot imagine having to pay for basic medical bills. I live in Canada and everything is paid for. I have been fighting cancer off and on for 10 years now and take medication that should cost me $700 but everything is free. I feel for all of you who have to pay for all your health expenses I would never be able to afford medical treatments if I lived in the USA.

      • Reply Rrr |

        Well said. I can’t figure out if Canadians are so dense that they don’t realize they pay that much more in income taxes than us or they just forget.

        • Reply Kate |

          That’s actually not true at all. Depending on how much you make Canadians may pay more in income tax but in some circumstances actually pay less. The problem with the American system is insurance companies try to get out of paying as much as possible, so the providers bill as high as possible which the insurance companies avoid again. Passing all the costs on to the people who need the health care. The costs are absolutely outrageous for health care in this country. It’s a racket top to bottom. And you’re the one who is dense if you can’t see that!

          • Rrr |

            The effective tax rate is actually about 10% more in Canada. For the highest income earners, they do pay less but how many Americans are in the 45% income tax category. For the middle class, it is about 10% more. That is why we always have a lofty politician going for the single payer but the average American shoots it down.

  • Reply Klm |

    You should not be ashamed to ask. Medical care is the only place I can think of where we agree to pay without knowing what it will cost ahead of time. And you’re saving them employee time by paying and not making them send additional bills.
    I’ve appealed insurance coverage before—and honestly, I got a letter on a Monday that they received the appeal, and 1 day later, a letter that they were honoring my appeal, which made me think that they knew they were wrong to deny it in the first place (‘cause how else could them have reviewed it so fast). It took me 1 hour to write the letter, and I saved $1200. You spent 5 minute on the phone and saved $70. Pretty good hourly rate!

  • Reply Holly Sanford |

    Ugh…right there with you. My oldest son has diabetes so we know and I plan on paying his deductible and out of pocket each plan year. My younger son and I rarely even meet our deductible, let alone our out of pocket but I just found out I need to have a CT scan and surgery on a deviated septum and possibly sinus surgery thrown in too. Now I’m scrambling to adjust my budget to pay the out of pocket for me as well this plan year.

    I’ve not paid in full on a bill to get a discount but one year both kids ended up with ER visits and I did work out an interest free payment plan since both those bills came due at the same time. Good luck to you!!

    • Reply Sara |

      Thank you!

      I’ve had so many sinus problems, that you have my greatest sympathy. But the surgeries were seriously life-changing for me. I hope they help you too!

  • Reply Isabella |

    Medical bills are scary for sure. The first time I had cancer, we had our own business with a high deductible. Those bills totaled about $35,000 that we had to pay. The second time I had cancer, my bills totaled close to half a million dollars (I kid you not!), and we paid very little. We now have great insurance through an employer plus my state kicks in for cancer patients through various foundations. It’s time for a single payer in this country.

So, what do you think ?