Better Manage Medical Bills with These 5 Strategies
Medical bills can quickly add up and start eating away at the available cash in your budget. And if they keep piling up, those costs can quickly spiral and turn into medical debt.
You don’t have to let these expenses become completely unmanageable if you’re proactive. Use these tips and methods to keep medical bills in your family under control.
1. Stay Organized
Medical bills can feel even more overwhelming if you can’t keep track of all the paperwork that comes with them. Bills come from every medical provider you work with. That could include individual doctors, labs, hospitals, and specialists.
Along with every bill, you should get an “explanation of benefits” document. This comes from your insurance company and includes information like any discounts you received and the actual amount you owe. Your EOB paperwork should be itemized, so call and request an itemized copy if you didn’t receive one initially.
To stay organized, keep track of bills first and make sure you don’t get billed for something twice. You’ll want itemized bills, too, so you can go through everything line by line to check for accuracy. Then, compare your EOB to your bills and make sure everything lines up.
If you need help reading these documents, this resource can help you better understand and decode your medical bills.
2. Pay Medical Bills on Time
Once you’re organized, you’ll want to make sure you pay your medical bills on time. Write due dates down on your calendar or set alerts on your phone to make sure you don’t forget to send in payment.
This is really a simple step, but being proactive makes a big difference. It can help you manage costs by avoiding fees or debt.
3. Communicate with Providers and Insurance Companies
If you find mistakes or discrepancies, hold off on paying the bill. You can dispute the charges first.
Call your medical provider and request their billing department. Not everyone in the office will have the authority to change or alter bills, so be polite and patient — but persistent, until you can reach the right person.
You may also need to call your insurance company to get charges adjusted. But you can also call if you feel like you need help managing accurate medical bills.
If you feel like you won’t be able to pay the whole bill by the time it’s due, don’t just put it off or avoid it. Call and ask about your options for payments or additional discounts. Again, if you stay polite and patient and request help, the insurance company may even be able to adjust costs.
4. Evaluate Your Cash Flow
Do you incur a lot of medical costs or expect to deal with some medical bills for the foreseeable future? It may be time to look at your budget and your cash flow.
See if you can reduce any other expenses you currently have to free up cash to knock out a medical bill. This may sound painful — or impossible! — especially if you’re already on a tight budget.
But many families can find a surprising amount of costs to cut. The trick? Make sure you’re spending on what you value.
Look through all of your recent purchases, transactions, and bills for services that you use. Is there anything that you don’t use, regret buying, or that doesn’t line up with your values? It’s time to drop that expense so you can have more control over your money.
You could come up with a considerable amount of money to allocate toward necessary medical costs when you stop spending on items that aren’t important to you or don’t add value to your life.
5. Don’t Panic! Look at Payment Options for Medical Costs
If you’re starting to struggle to pay your medical bills with your cash flow, don’t panic. Don’t ignore those bills, either. That will only worsen the situation (and if you’re following these strategies, you already know it’s important to communicate with your providers and your insurance company!).
Here are a few options you can explore if you feel like you simply can’t manage a medical bill that you receive:
- Ask about payment plans from providers or insurance companies.
- Consider paying the bill with your credit card, and then paying off the card over time. This isn’t the right option for everyone, but it’s an option — especially if you can use a card that has a 0% APR period and you can pay off the charge before that period expires.
In the future, you can also help prevent medical bills from piling up by taking the following actions:
- Make sure you fully understand your insurance plan and what it covers. Avoid going to out-of-network providers, because they cost you more out of pocket.
- Choose an insurance plan carefully. This is something a financial planner can help you evaluate to understand the best option (because it’s not always the plan with the lowest monthly premium).
- Look for lower-cost options when you can. Instead of going to the emergency room, can you go to urgent care? Can your regular doctor provide you the care you need, so you don’t need to go to a specialist? It’s not always possible to avoid higher-cost services, but make the choice when you have the option.
Know that there are actions you can take to better manage your medical bills and keep healthcare costs in check. From negotiating to lower your bill to getting on a payment plan that feels reasonable for your monthly budget, you don’t have to feel like this is something that’s completely out of your control.
But remember: you need to be proactive and communicate with both your providers and your health insurance company. It’s well worth the effort.
Have questions about budgeting and healthcare expenses?