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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Helpful advice on paying your medical bills

Medical bills can get really hairy, really fast. Having family members in the medical billing profession, I can offer some insight. Don't let the weight of medical bills weigh so heavily on your shoulders that it effects your quality of life. Remember, there are solutions to every problem if you look hard enough.

So you received a big, fat medical bill? Look it over and study it well. Do all the dates match the days you were seen? Do all the procedures correlate to what you had done? If you had an Emergency Room visit for a twisted ankle and your bill reflects an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) then you are being billed for something you didn't have done on your visit. If you don't understand the terminology, google it. Don't be helpless, empower yourself and use the internet to breakdown the medical bill... line by line.

If you think there are inaccuracies, call the billing company. If they verify that the doctor or hospital they are billing for did indeed tell them to bill you for that incorrect exam then you have to call the doctor or hospital that is misinforming the billing company. Remember: the billing company is a third-party. They are simply doing what they are told to do.

Now that being said, I'm not saying billing companies don't make mistakes. They do and my mother whom has billed for 20 years will tell you the same. Challenge anything suspicious on your bill. An honest medical biller will contest the items for you. Sometimes all it takes is a fax from the medical facility stating that the item in question is indeed a mistake. Once this explanation is received by the medical billing company, the error should be dropped.

Once you have established that the medical bill is accurate you can begin your assault on the payment arrangements. Try to negotiate a payment plan. Your hospital or provider may be willing to accept smaller monthly payments. Keep in mind that your payments generally need to be reasonable and you must keep up with your payments. I highly recommend the following:

* Notify the appropriate offices quickly.
* Keep in touch with your creditors.
* Record the names and phone numbers of the people you are dealing with.
* Document the date, time, and results of your phone calls.
* Pay something - even a small amount - on each bill each month as a gesture of good faith.

Apply for Medicaid. If you are eligible, Medicaid may pay for some of your existing medical bills. Medicaid coverage can begin as early as the first day of the month, three months before the month you apply, if you would have been eligible in those months, so apply as soon as possible.

Be creative about finding help from outside sources. Charitable foundations, civic organizations and churches and community groups might be able to help. One website I highly recommend is Prosper.com. This website is made up of people looking to loan money. In essence, you apply for a loan and lenders (made up of the average citizen population) bid on the ability to loan you money. This drives the interest rate down on your loan and depending on your credit score, you may get a loan to pay your medical bills for a lower interest rate than you get from your local bank. Another beauty of Prosper.com is that you can kind of "tell your story" so that all the lenders get an idea of who you are and why you need the money. It is a fantastic system and you owe it to yourself to at least check out.

Whatever you do, don't ignore bills. Though tempting, this is not a good strategy. Hospitals and providers are more likely to negotiate with you if you contact them immediately. If you "let it slide" and ignore the bill, the billing company will send your bill to a collection agency where things can get MUCH uglier.

Don't transfer debt to a credit card. Most experts warn that this is a poor choice for paying off medical debt for two reasons:

1. The interest rates on your credit card will add significantly to your total payment.

2. Transferring medical debt to a credit card may affect your eligibility for Medicaid. Some medical costs can be deducted from gross income to determine your Medicaid eligibility. Medical debt on a credit card may no longer qualify as medical debt.

Try to keep your spirits up and immediately deal with your medical bills. Trust me, they won't go away. Call the billing company as soon as you get your bill and ask about a payment plan. Whatever the response, thank them for their help and tell them you'll be contacting them again shortly. Hang up and find your funding solution. Make a small payment in the meantime to let them know you are going to make payments. Even if it is only $10. I was once told that as long as you are making an effort to pay, that they can't send you to collections. Your state may be different so check it out.

Either way, attack the bills today and remember...there is always a solution if you look hard enough.

References:

www.digg.com
www.helium.com
www.yahoo.com
www.reddit.com
financialgenesis.blogspot.com

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