(NerdWallet) – As health insurance companies have rolled back exemptions for hospital costs related to COVID-19, a COVID-19 hospitalization can result in a surprisingly high bill from health care providers, according to a recent study from the University of Michigan and Boston University.
Of individuals who had private insurance from March 2020 to March 2021 and were billed for a COVID-19 hospitalization, the average deductible was nearly $ 4,000. Among Medicare Advantage people, the average bill was about $ 1,600. This included hospital treatment and medical care.
It can be stressful to face a high medical bill for something that is out of your control, especially if a case of COVID-19 prevented you from working for a while or left you with persistent health problems. However, hospital bills can sometimes be adjusted or negotiated down. Here are some strategies you can try.
Organize your COVID-19 hospital bills
Gather your materials, including all your bills, your insurance card and any explanations of benefits you have received. Review your COVID-19 hospital bills and make sure you recognize all the fees.
“Do you remember you got that MRI?” asked AnnMarie McIlwain, CEO of Patient Advocators in New Jersey. (Patient advocates help clients with medical challenges, from finding the right treatment to handling billing and insurance issues.) “Did you actually talk to that gastroenterologist? There are often fees on bills that are fake that should not be there.”
Also, double check that each claim appears to have been handled properly by your insurance company. Typically, a processed claim will show a plan discount and an allowable claim amount plus any payment from the plan if you have met your deductible for the year.
“If you do not see a payment or adjustment, there is a chance that they have not submitted,” said Jennifer Kastner, owner of Patient Advocacy Solutions in Georgia.
Your insurance may also have rejected the claim, so follow up with your insurance company before you start working for a bill. Geeky Tip: An explanation of benefits, or EOB, is a statement from your health insurance company that tells you how the company covers the medical treatment you received. It’s not a bill.
Ask for financial assistance
If you are dealing with a larger medical bill than you can handle, call the hospital’s billing office and ask if you are eligible for financial assistance or financial relief. This is sometimes called charitable assistance.
“The worst thing they can say is ‘No,'” said Caitlin Donovan, a spokeswoman for the Patient Advocate Foundation based in Hampton, Virginia.
If you are planning to ask for help, use some basic financial figures.
“You generally want to know how much you earn in a year, what you can afford to pay per year, and what you can afford to pay in advance,” Donovan said.
You can also ask for a payment plan that allows you to pay your hospital bill over time. Generally, these do not charge interest, so they are a better option than putting a large medical fee on your credit card or taking out a loan.
“You do not have to worry about medical bills popping up on a credit report, which is not what you want,” Donovan explained.
Just make sure you can handle the monthly payment in the long run.
“You do not want to get into a situation where you can not afford to pay that bill and it ends up going to debt collection, or you end up cutting corners in other parts of your life where you really should not, “Donovan said.
If you are able to offer a cash payment for a significant portion of the balance, give it a try.
“Cash is a word they like to hear at the billing office, and if you are willing to pay something quickly and via cash, they will sometimes give you a percentage discount,” McIlwain said. “I would say 20% [off] would be a good number to suggest. “
That said, according to McIlwain, if you feel the bill seems too high to handle, you’re probably not able to make an 80% payment on the balance.
Appeal in person
If you are dealing with a bill from a local hospital and you need help, see if it is possible to visit the billing office or the billing window.
“It’s much harder not to have compassion on someone when they are in front of you,” McIlwain said.
If you can not go in person, then do your best to keep calm in the phone. Try to make the person at the other end of the phone your ally on your journey to solve this problem. Getting angry or angry is a natural reaction, but it does not help.
“They’re more likely to try to get you off the phone quickly when you allow emotions to prevail,” McIlwain explained.
Keep good records
When starting this process, keep track of each step. Write everything down in a notebook, or save a digital document or spreadsheet with a note on every phone call, every letter sent, and every person you talk to (and what they say). When sending a message through a patient portal, make a note of it. The better your records are, the better equipped you will be to explain how diligently you have worked to take care of your bill.
Another tip: When talking to the insurance company, always ask for a reference number.
“These people get tons of calls a day,” Kastner said. “You would like reference numbers to refer to.”
Hire help if you need it
It may happen that despite your best efforts, you can not solve a crippling medical bill, or you find it too overwhelming. A patient advocate may be able to help. This is someone who can make phone calls on your behalf – to your doctors, the hospital, your insurance company and any other parties involved. Patient advocates are typically experienced in areas such as health care, insurance, and medical billing.
Prices may vary for this. Some organizations charge a flat fee, while others charge a percentage of what they save you. That Patient Advocate Fund is free for patients who have a serious or chronic health condition.
“One of the problems with the whole system is that we’re talking about people who are sick, who are tired, and who are dealing with new diagnoses,” Donovan said. “And we ask them to do a lot of work. So it’s always a good idea to ask for help, whether it’s just having a family member to call or asking a professional to help you.”