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Kaiser Health News: Consumers Should Stick Up For Themselves On Medical Bills

Kaiser Health News’ new report features advice for consumers on what actions they can take to mitigate large hospital bills – most notably by being their own advocate when negotiating with medical providers.

Federal law requires nonprofit hospitals to provide free or discounted care to patients who cannot afford their treatments. However, this does not mean that these hospitals are always jumping to offer free or discounted care. Often, it is the patients who must advocate for themselves.

The report advises consumers to not rush to pay a bill they receive:

You probably have more time than you think, and if a hospital or clinic starts to worry it may never collect a penny, it might be more amenable to accepting a lower amount.

Once consumers have decided they do need to pay, they are wise to at least try and apply for aid or a discount from the hospital, according to the report. Although the law stipulates a certain income threshold where hospitals must provide complimentary care, even patients outside of this income range may be able to negotiate lower rates:

If you don’t meet the income guidelines and are struggling to cover a medical bill, apply anyway. Hospitals have the discretion to accommodate you based on your circumstances. And many will at least agree to an interest-free monthly payment plan.

Another simple step consumers can take when they receive a bill is to ask for an itemized copy. According to some experts, most hospital bills contain at least one error that results in overcharging a patient. Sometimes, having billing errors corrected can save thousands:

AnnMarie Quintaglie McIlwain, CEO of Summit, New Jersey-based Patient Advocators, tells of a client who got a bill charging her for a bone marrow transplant she didn’t receive. It was a coding error, McIlwain says, and correcting it knocked $250,000 off the bill.

Finally, consumers should make sure their insurer is indeed paying their fair share of the bill. In some cases, a patient may get several treatments in a short period from different providers. When these are all sent to an insurer at once, that insurer may not realize that the patient has hit the deductible already, so they end up under-paying. Patients can always ask providers to re-submit bills to their insurer if they think this is the case.


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