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Step Six: Other Ways To Lower Your Bills

Make Sure You Are The One Who Should Be Paying

In some cases, you may get billed for care at a hospital that you should not have to pay.  Here are some situations where that happens and what to do:

  • If you have health insurance, make sure they are following the policy on what they are required to cover. Ask the health insurance company to send you an “Explanation of Benefits” (EOC). This will tell you what they are responsible for paying. Review what you are being charged for and make sure your insurance paid what they are supposed to.

    If you do not receive a statement of benefits or if you think that they are not covering what they should be, your state will likely have a process for you to appeal their coverage decision. These appeal programs are run in most states by either the Office of the Insurance Commissioner or the Attorney General’s Office. You can also look into resources at the  Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  • Even if you don’t qualify for standard financial assistance at a hospital, there are often hardship programs if your bill is a large percentage of your annual income.  Call the hospital, explain your financial situation, and ask if they have any programs that can help. Tell them about your total bills from this hospital and other providers. If they say they will consider an application from you, email us at [email protected] and we can help you apply!

Make Sure Your Bill Is Accurate

Just because the medical provider puts something in a bill, does not necessarily mean you owe it. Many bills have errors in them. 

Sometimes, bills include multiple charges for the same thing or you are charged for more complex care than you received. Upcoding is when a medical provider is not honest about the complexity of the service performed. 

Even if there are no errors or upcodes in your bill, the bill may still be subject to serious price gouging. Medical providers get paid a different amount depending on who is paying. Generally, a medical provider will get paid about what they spent (or a bit less) when paid by the government. Insurance generally pays 2-3 times what the provider spends, and, if you are uninsured, your bill probably reflects 4-6 times what the provider spent. Hospitals have what is called a “chargemaster,” which is a list of their “sticker prices” for different medical services or items sold. These prices are highly inflated and you can and should demand that they be lowered. Just because a hospital puts a price on something does not, in and of itself, mean that you have to pay that amount. 

If you think that you were billed incorrectly, upcoded, or price gouged, tell the hospital, 

“I am disputing this bill.  Please send me an itemized statement.” 

Then, fight for corrections to the bill. You can use resources like Turquoise Health to learn what other providers in your area would accept for the same service. Show those numbers to the hospital and ask them to lower the bill to that amount.

Negotiate Down The Final Price

Most hospitals and debt collectors will work with you to reduce the price.  To them, getting paid a smaller amount can be worth more than spending time chasing you to get you to pay. They will frequently try to steer you towards a payment plan. 

Here are some tips on successful negotiations:

  • Call the hospital (or debt collector) and ask them to work with you on the bill amount. Be calm, nice and honest when on the phone!  You want to get the billing representative on your team so that they can help you reduce that bill. 

  • If you have some savings that you can use to pay the bill, ask them what they would accept as a full settlement if you made a one-time payment. Do not be afraid to push back or counter-offer. Remember, regardless of what they tell you – this is a negotiation! 

  • If you can’t afford a lump sum payment, ask for a payment plan.  Try asking the hospital/debt collector for a copy of their payment plan policy.  Then tell them what you can reasonably afford to pay each month.  It can also be helpful to share what you are paying for other bills to help show what your budget looks like.

Special Tips For Dealing With Debt Collectors

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) gives you rights when dealing with a collection agency (or other type of third-party debt collector). Here are a few important ones:

  • A debt collector cannot contact you at an “unusual time.” This is generally considered anytime before 8 am or after 9 pm in your time zone. They also cannot communicate with you in a place that is inconvenient. 

  • If a debt collector knows you are represented by an attorney, and it is easy for them to get the contact information for your attorney, they cannot contact you and must go through your attorney. If you have an attorney you should tell the debt collector in writing and give them your attorney’s contact information. 

  • If you tell the debt collector in writing to stop contacting you they are only allowed to contact you in the future to tell you if they plan to pursue a certain remedy (like filing a lawsuit against you). Please note that this will not affect whether you owe the debt or not.

  • A debt collector cannot contact people you know such as your boss, your friends, etc. They are only allowed to contact you, your attorney, a consumer reporting agency, the original creditor, the creditor’s attorney, or their attorney about the debt. 

  • In their initial communication with you, or within five days of their initial communication, the debt collector must tell you things about the debt:

    1. The amount,

    2. The name of the creditor who the debt is owed to, and

    3. That you have 30 days to dispute the debt in writing.

  • If you dispute the debt in writing within 30 days, the debt collector must send you verification of the debt or a judgment (if one exists). 

  • A debt collector may not harass, oppress, or abuse you. For example, a collector cannot:

    1. Threaten you with violence, damage to your reputation, or damage to your property,

    2. Use abusive or profane language with you,

    3. Publish publicly that you refused to pay (except for reporting to a consumer reporting agency),

    4. Try to coerce you paying by advertising to sell your debt,

    5. Call you repeatedly to annoy, abuse, or harass you, or

    6. Not be upfront about who they are and why they are calling.

  • A debt collector may not make any false, deceptive, or misleading representations. For example, they cannot:

    1. Pretend that they are somehow affiliated with the government or a court when they are not,

    2. Misrepresent key details about the debt such as its amount or legal status,

    3. Pretend to be an attorney when they are not,

    4. Pretend that you could be arrested or jailed for nonpayment when you cannot,

    5. Pretend that if they sell or transfer the debt to someone else that you could lose some sort of claim or defense,

    6. Pretend that you have committed some sort of crime,

    7. Threaten to falsely report the debt to a consumer reporting agency (or to actually do it),

    8. Lie to you or otherwise be deceptive,

    9. Pretend to be a different person or business than they are,

    10. Pretend to be employed by a consumer reporting agency. 

  • A debt collector may only charge interest, fees, or expenses that were in your agreement with the medical provider or otherwise authorized by law.

  • A debt collector cannot threaten to repossess your property when they legally may not. 

  • A debt collector may not contact you by post card.

  • If you have multiple debts with a collector they must apply payments you make to the debts you tell them to. 

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act gives you multiple protections and rights, the above list are just some. 

Also, your state may give you additional rights. The FDCPA and most similar state laws will require the creditor to pay your attorney’s fees if you have to file a suit against them. For this reason many attorneys who represent debtors (or alleged debtors) will not charge you, and will get paid by the collector. 

If you think your rights have been violated (or you do not owe the debt you have been contacted about), try searching the internet for “FDCPA lawyer near me”, “debt defense lawyer near me”, or “consumer protection lawyer near me.” If lawyers say they will work on a “contingency” basis this means that you will not have to pay their fees – the collector will have to if you win.   

Protect Yourself From Future Bills

Check if you qualify for government programs like Medicaid, Medicare, or low cost health insurance for future medical expenses.

Get help with other debt

If you need help with other non-medical bills, call 866-290-3158 to get help from the team at Money Management International. They can offer advice and educational materials to help you build a positive credit history.

You Don’t Have To Do This Alone! 

Dollar For can check if you are eligible,  send you tips on applying, or even submit an application to the hospital on your behalf.

Are you already in the process of applying for financial assistance?  Need help with a tricky situation?  Use our contact form to ask questions or get help with your case.

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