In early 2018 our youngest son had what we thought was a stomach virus. We kept him home from daycare, cuddled him, and tried to get him to keep liquids down. It wasn’t until the second day at 11:00 pm that my gut told me something else was wrong. He was 3 at the time and could only tell me that his “tummy hurted.” At 11:00 pm I grabbed my purse and took him to the hospital near our house. After a multitude of tests and blood draws, they granted us a special ride on an ambulance to a children’s hospital in Dallas. We arrived at 4:00 am and had a CT scan. We learned that his appendix ruptured and his entire belly was fully infected.
If you’ve ever had to have your appendix taken out, you know the pain that our little guy was in. And if you’re one of the unlucky ones that has had it rupture inside them, then you know how miserable the aftermath is. Needless to say, James had to have surgery to remove his appendix and clean out his abdomen. He was then on antibiotics around the clock. The doctors said his situation was very concerning and told us we would be in the hospital a minimum of 2-3 weeks. Well, our strong boy had hundreds (if not thousands) of people praying for him. To the doctor’s surprise, we walked out of that hospital 7 days later with a prescription for antibiotics, and a follow-up appointment scheduled.
Shifting our focus
I’m so thankful that I was able to focus on our son during those tiring and stressful days. I’m not going to lie and tell you that I wasn’t concerned about the medical bills. We were debt free by this time and had 3 months of savings in our account. We had just started contributing to a Roth IRA (an extra $917 each month), and I knew that we would have to pause those contributions so we could clean up the bills we were about to get. I had never dealt with the blow of such large medical bills, so I hit the internet and started searching for ways to settle medical bills. With the help of certain articles and the advice of my amazing mom, we were able to cut our medical bills down significantly! So in case you are ever in a similar situation (which I fully pray you won’t have to endure), I thought I’d share what worked for our family when it comes to paying medical bills!
Let all the bills come in
When you have a medical emergency (or even just a huge medical bill), it can be overwhelming when those bills start flooding in. I swear we had bills coming in for weeks. So, we just let them come in. I kept all our bills in a binder and I organized them by their due date. I waited until we had what we thought were all our bills before I started dealing with them. Just make sure you are checking the due dates!
Review your bills
No one is perfect, especially your insurance company or medical billing departments. You need to check every bill or explanation of benefit online to make sure that no one is charging you for something that you never received. This happens more than you think! You’ll also want to make sure that you are not being billed twice. My husband would check online with our insurance company each week to check the status of different bills and what our insurance was willing to pay.
Sit down and start calling
When you’re ready to start paying your medical bills, you’ll want to determine if you can pay them outright or set up a payment plan. Most doctors and hospitals are required to offer patients a payment plan (usually at 0% interest). However, if you have money in your bank account and can cover the entire bill, then you have serious leverage to get your bill lowered! The truth is that these medical places don’t want to set up payment plans if they can help it. They want their money now.
Here are the exact steps I took to negotiate our medical bills. Please note that we had money in our checking/savings account which allowed us the ability to negotiate.
1. Do the math before you call.
Before we ever called to pay our bill, we always did the math to see what we were willing to pay. For instance, I have found that most places are willing to offer you a 20% discount on your bill. But if you ask for a deeper discount, chances are they will give it to you! Let’s pretend that you have a $1,000 medical bill. To calculate a 35% discount, you would multiply the balance by 0.35. Then, subtract that amount from the original bill.
$1,000 x 0.35 = $350 (discounted amount)
$1,000 – $350 = $650 (amount you will pay in full)
Now when you call, you can tell them that you are willing to pay $650 today and pay the bill in full. This is a 35% discount! The benefit of doing the math before you call is that you are ensuring you are getting as big of a discount as possible. It can be difficult to do the math while you are on the phone with the billing department.
2. Use this script.
If you’re struggling with what to say, here’s an easy script to have on hand when you call the billing department:
“Hi, I’m calling in reference to my bill. I see here that the balance is $_____, but I can pay you $______ today and settle the bill as a $0 balance.”
I used this script and called about 10 places total and only had 2 that refused to settle. In terms of how much to offer: the higher the bill, the deeper discount you will be able to get. We were able to cut about 25%-40% off most of our medical bills. I would start by offering 40%-50% of the bill and see what they can do. I even had one person put me on hold and talk to her manager. When she took me off hold, she gave me the highest discount that they could offer.
3. Get a confirmation number.
Make sure you get a confirmation number for the bill payment. If a confirmation number is not available, get the name and phone number of the person that you spoke with. You’ll want to make sure that the person you are talking to set your remaining balance at $0.
What if they say no?
I called about one bill and spoke with the billing department. My only option was to spread the amount out over several months. Reluctantly, I hung up with them and decided to google the actual office phone number for the doctor. I spoke with someone in their office (not in the billing department) and they lowered my bill by over 35%! I basically just said “Hey I know I owe you guys $1,154.95. I’m willing to settle today in full for $750 over the phone.” She took about 15 seconds to respond “okay we can do that!” I was amazed! That’s over 35% off the original bill! Had I never thought to call the actual office, I would have had to pay the full amount. Unfortunately, there were still 2 places that weren’t willing to budge when it came to lowering the balance of the bill. So it won’t always work, but it’s worth it to try!
Will it affect your credit score?
I have had several people concerned that settling or negotiating on a medical bill will affect their credit score. In our experience, our credit score was not affected whatsoever. You’ll want to clarify that your remaining balance will be $0. Just to be safe, check your credit report a month or so later to ensure that the remaining balance was not sent to collections. Read more about how to raise your credit score.
What do you have to lose?
Okay, honesty time here! Medical bills can be paralyzing. And in most cases, people are never taught that you can call and get your bill lowered. So if you get a hospital bill or a large medical bill, it’s totally worth the effort to call and talk to someone! Ask for a discount! Tell them that you can pay them a certain amount today. Because the best way to deal with your medical bills is to be on top of it! Don’t drag it out and let it hang over your head. You are in control and you can get these bills lowered!
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