How to Negotiate Medical Bills

negotiate medical billsEven if you have health insurance, you still likely receive medical bills from time to time. And of course, if you don’t have coverage, or your policy is not as comprehensive as it could be, you are going to get hit with charges almost every time you receive care. While paying your bill in full is always a possibility, you don’t want to jump the gun and send a check before thinking twice. Did you know that you can negotiate medical bills? That is right. If you know what you are doing, you can save a lot of money on the cost of medical care.

Here are five details to keep in mind if you are interested in negotiating a medical bill:

1. Do not waste time. The last thing you want to do is wait so long that the doctor has to send you another bill. If you do this, they will view you in a “bad light” which will harm your chances of negotiating a lower price. The second that you receive a bill is the second that you should put the wheels in motion.

2. Are all the charges broken down, one by one? Or did you simply receive a summary statement? To give yourself the best chance of success, you need a detailed bill. If you don’t receive one the first time around, get on the phone and request this type of statement. This makes it simple for you to see exactly what you are being charged for, as well as which areas can be discounted.

3. A cash payment will greatly improve your chances of receiving a discounted price. Simply put, when you pay in cash, you are making life much easier for the billing department. They don’t have to deal with cashing a check or processing your credit card. On top of all this, they receive their money without any wait. Because of this convenience you are offering them, you have much more power to negotiate. If you offer a reasonable cash payment, such as 75 percent of the total bill, you give yourself a reasonable chance to receive a discount. If you offer too little, such as 25 percent, you will not be taken seriously.

4. Who is in charge of the billing department? No matter what, make sure you are talking to somebody who has the power to provide a discount. In a small office, this may be the head of the practice. If your bill is from a large hospital, though, you will want to hunt down the billing manager.

5. Don’t stop if you hear no the first time around. It is called a negotiation for a reason. The first thing you can try is to ask for somebody else. If you are not talking to the top dog, ask for the person who has the authority to negotiate with you. Also, don’t be afraid to tell the person that you simply cannot afford to pay in full. By putting a little pressure on them, they will be more likely to concede a little. The last thing they want is to receive nothing at all from you.

Perhaps most importantly, you may never make any progress, but the worst thing that can happen is they say “no, sorry.”

The next time you receive a medical bill, think long and hard about whether you want to pay in full. With the five tips above, you may be able to negotiate a lower price.

Have you successfully negotiated a medical bill before?

(photo credit: bobster855)

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ken October 26, 2010 at 1:58 pm

My wife is the billing manager of a cardiology practice. If someone doesn’t have any insurance and calls her to set up a payment plan she has the authority to reduce the bill by 20% if the patient pays with credit card over the phone. Her feeling is that even though people are calling and willing to make payments something in the future might affect their ability to pay. If she has to send them to collections later on down the road, the collection agency will get 20% of what is collected anyways. People are defaulting on the payments consistly. Just yeterday alone, my wife got three bankruptcy letters from patients.

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2 Nick October 29, 2010 at 1:26 am

@ken, that is nuts!! rough times for so many people right now. I just want to echo what the article said….cash is king. if you think about it it makes more sense for someone to give you a discount when paying in full, in cash. the reason is because that business now has all of the money (instead of a small percentage) to go out and buy more inventory, etc. I run most my large purchases through my private banking system (a concept known as becoming your own bank) making it so i can pay cash and usually receive a discount.

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3 Ken October 30, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Obiviously they would prefer cash instead of receiving a payment over the phone because of the fee added fee from the visa company. Most people ignore their bills to the very end. The only people calling now are trying to secure a loan and are having a problem. They take the money and run while it’s there. For a paid in full payment my wife will call the collection agency and have their name not sent to the credit bureau.

In most cases, people have received atleast 3 bills, and a letter saying they will go to collections before they are actually sent to a collection agency.

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4 Debi February 4, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I was talking to the local hospital billing department about the outrageous cost of a couple of tests I had just had completed when out of the blue the billing clerk told me that anytime I paid my bill in full I could deduct 20% from the bottom line. This is a secret discount that is not mentioned on any invoices. I asked how long it had been in effect and if she could go back through time and credit me for past payments and received the discount for the previous 2 years! Ask, ask, ask.

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5 Megan September 19, 2011 at 3:23 pm

You’re exactly right. I was injured while working a couple of years ago and I did not have health insurance coverage at the time. By negotiating (and paying with cash), I was able to save several thousand dollars in medical expenses. It was still an expensive injury, but not nearly as it could have been.

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6 Joe June 27, 2012 at 11:36 am

I’ve got over $13,000 in bills for a simple kidney stone, even though I have insurance. The insurance is denying the claims. The medical office quickly offered the 20% discount if I pay in full, but who has over $10,000 in cash just lying around? The keep telling me to go get more credit cards to pay them. I’m going to have to file Chapter 7. Police come to help with intruders, Firemen come put out fires and the Military protects us, but if you get sick you are on your own. Our system is broken.

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