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Tuesday January 31, 2023

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

How to Reduce Your Medical Bills

What tips do you recommend to Medicare beneficiaries dealing with large medical bills? My partner is recovering from heart surgery. The medical bills are coming in quickly and straining us financially.

Medical debt has become a widespread issue in the United States. According to U.S. Census data, 19% of American households carry medical debt, including 10% of households headed by someone age 65 or older. Even seniors on Medicare can struggle with complicated billing and coverage problems. To help lower your medical bills, here are some tips recommended by health care experts.

Double check your bills: Medical bills may contain errors, including duplicate charges or in some cases charges for services you never received. If you are facing a high bill and are required to pay for some portion of it, request itemized invoices from the hospital and other providers that detail the charges. Go through the invoices line by line and if you find something you do not understand or come across something you do not recall, contact the provider for an explanation or a correction.

Wait for your EOB: Doctors' offices and hospitals may mail initial bills to you before they even submit them to your health insurer. Hold off on any payment until you receive an explanation of benefits (EOB) from your provider – Medicare, supplemental Medicare, Medicare Advantage, or private insurer. This will show what you owe after your insurance has paid its portion.

If your EOB shows that your insurer is refusing to pay for services that you think should be covered, call them to see whether it is a correctable mistake, such as a coding error for a certain test or treatment. If it is truly a denial of coverage, you may need to file an appeal. For details on how to file a Medicare appeal, see Medicare.gov/claims-appeals/how-do-i-file-an-appeal.

Ask for a discount: You can also call the hospital's accounting office or the billing staff at your doctor's practice and ask if they can reduce your bill. If you do have the funds to pay the entire bill, ask the hospital or provider for a "prompt pay" discount which may save you between 10% to 25%.

If it is best for you to pay your bills over time, ask the billing office to set up a no-interest payment plan for you. Many providers offer payment plans to help ease the burden of medical debt.

You can also call the hospital directly and ask a billing specialist if the facility offers financial assistance. According to the American Hospital Association, almost half of U.S. hospitals are nonprofit. This means they may offer free or discounted services in some instances. This is usually reserved for low to moderate-income patients who have limited or no health insurance, but requirements vary from hospital to hospital.

Get help: If you have not had any success on your own, contact the Patient Advocate Foundation to see if they can help you. If the Patient Advocate Foundation is available, they may offer assistance with understanding and negotiating your medical bills, free of charge. You may also consider hiring a medical billing professional to negotiate for you. However, be aware that these services can be costly. Be sure to choose someone who is credentialed by the Patient Advocate Certification Board.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published December 30, 2022
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