Monday, 25 February 2019
If you're struggling to pay your medical bills, co-pays or insurance premiums, you're not alone.
Millions of Americans are finding it challenging to afford even basic healthcare these days.
According to a 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation/New York Times survey, 26 percent of adults ages 18-64 reported someone in their household had problems paying medical bills in the past 12 months. For those without health insurance, more than half said they had difficulty paying their medical bills.
The rising cost of healthcare isn't helping. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported healthcare spending in 2017 increased 3.9 percent to reach $3.5 trillion, or $10,739 per person, from the previous year alone.
For uninsured Americans this is a difficult situation. Even individuals with employer-sponsored insurance are seeing deductibles and co-pays skyrocket, and those who pay for their own coverage are faced with frequent premium increases while coverage dwindles.
Even with all these challenges, there are strategies for reducing your healthcare costs and managing medical debt once you've acquired it.
Many insurance policies cover routine care such as annual checkups and dental cleanings. These checkups can help you maintain good health and catch problems early, which can be less expensive to treat than late-stage diseases. If you don't have insurance or can't afford the co-pays, look for free or low-cost screenings at county or city health departments and health fairs.
Reading an insurance policy can be very confusing. To reduce your out-of-pocket expenses, you need to understand your coverage. It's essential to know what your copays are, whether you need referrals to see specialists and how much more it costs to use out-of-network physicians and providers.
Knowing how much your deductible is and how it is calculated is also very important. For example, what charges apply to your deductible, and do you have a family deductible or does each family member have their own deductible to meet? Knowing these details and keeping up with how much of your deductible has been met can help you make smarter healthcare decisions and may save you money.
If you need assistance understanding your policy and have employer-sponsored coverage, contact your human resource department. If your coverage is not through your employer, you can contact the insurance company directly for assistance.
Ask your provider about low-cost treatments or financing options. You won't be the first patient to ask, and hopefully, they'll have suggestions — such as clinical trials, less expensive medications or low-cost providers — to help you get the care you need without accumulating a mountain of debt.
If you already have medical bills that you're having difficulty paying, here are some strategies for managing them:
Understanding a medical bill can be almost as difficult as understanding an insurance policy. But it's important to carefully review your bill to see what you're being charged and if there are any errors. Also, if you have insurance, you need to determine if your insurance has paid its portion of the bill. Before you write a check, contact the billing office and have them carefully review your bill with you.
If you can't pay the bill in full, you might be able to negotiate a payment plan. Many providers understand the challenges patients face and are willing to let them pay their bills over time.
When negotiating, however, try hard to get a monthly amount you can afford so you're able to keep up the payments.
See if you qualify for a hardship plan
If you truly cannot afford to pay your bills, you might be eligible for a hardship plan. You will need to supply financial information to confirm your inability to pay, but ultimately you could get your bill reduced and a manageable payment plan.
If you are unable to pay your bills or negotiate a payment plan, chances are your medical debt will go into collections. This means your debt will be sold to a collection agency that will work to collect the amount owed.
Even though you are responsible for the debt, you do have rights. If you find yourself fielding calls from collection agencies, you may want to consult with an attorney who specializes in consumer protection rules for sound legal advice.
The content provided is for informational purposes only. Neither BBVA Compass, nor any of its affiliates, is providing legal, tax, or investment advice. You should consult your legal, tax, or financial advisor about your personal situation. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BBVA Compass or any of its affiliates.
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