June 26, 2015

Are you uninsured and facing high medical costs? 5 strategies to consider when you’ve been overcharged

A recent article published in the Washington Post reported the findings of a study on the disparity between hospital charges faced by uninsured patients and the real cost to hospitals to provide care to those patients. The study, published in Health Affairs scientific journal, found that 50 US hospitals were charging an average of 10 times the actual cost of providing care to their patients. According to Gerard Anderson, co-author of the study and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “They are price gouging because they can.” Added Anderson, “They are marking up prices because no is telling them they can’t.” In light of the research done by Anderson and his co-author, it is becoming increasingly important to know what steps you can take to manage your high medical costs. The bad news is that uninsured patients are the most likely to be charged the highest prices for their medical care. The good news is that you have several different options to reduce your out of pocket medical expenses if you’re uninsured and have been a victim of price gouging. Consider the following five strategies to help you manage and reduce your high medical costs.


1. Evaluate the options already in place.

One of the first options to explore is whether or not you qualify for Medicare. To find out if you’re eligible to have Medicare negotiate down and cover some or all of your medical expenses, visit the official Medicare Website and take their quick eligibility quiz. If you do qualify, you’ll have access to various money saving options through the Medicare Savings Programs. These state-run programs will help you pay Medicare premiums, deductibles, coinsurance costs, copayments, and prescription drug costs. Working with the hospital can also be an option that may lead to lower medical cost. In a post about handling high medical expenses, Caroline Mayer, consumer blogger and authority on health care costs, suggests inquiring “about getting a lower fee for paying the entire bill up front.” Because a lump-sum payment can decrease paperwork, time, and costs for doctors and hospitals, some medical institutions offer 10 to 30 percent discounts for paying in full within 30 days. In-house hospital financial assistance is another resource some hospitals provide that can help decrease your out of pocket costs. This support often includes interest-free extended payment plans and reduced pricing on the services they charged you for initially. Mayer gives words of wisdom for those looking to get help with their medical costs through their hospital or doctor, saying, “Even though your income may be well above poverty level, don’t assume you won’t qualify for financial aid for your medical expenses. Many programs help families shoulder their doctor bills regardless of income, especially those facing high medical bills in a given year.”


2. Negotiate medical bills on your own.

Since hospital prices are not based on the actual cost of providing care to patients, more and more patients have begun negotiating their medical bills down to reasonable rates on their own. 51% of all US hospitals are not-for-profit, meaning that they are more likely to negotiate their prices with consumers. If you plan to negotiate on your own, stay organized and keep track of each bill you receive. Make sure to read each bill carefully, as it is common for hospital bills to contain errors or charges for services you didn’t receive. There are a growing number of online resources that are making it possible to compare billing rates from one hospital to the next. Using sites such as Clear Health Costs, Healthcare Blue Book, and FAIR Health allows you to see how much you’re being overcharged, and allows you to use quoted prices from other hospitals as a starting point for your own bill negotiations.


3. Consider Crowdfunding as an option to raise money to cover your health care costs.

Crowdfunding, an online approach to fundraising that allows large numbers of people to donate, is a growing trend in the United States and we see an increasing number of people using it as a method to help cover their medical expenses. GiveForward, a crowdfunding website that focuses solely on raising money to help people pay high medical costs, reports that they receive contributions to various health campaigns ranging from $5 to $50,000. GiveForward and other crowdfunding sites like it (GoFundMe, YouCaring, Fundly, Indiegogo) make it easy to set up a web page telling your story and detailing your fundraising goals. From here, you can use social media to publicize your crowdfunding site and start receiving donations. Once you initiate a crowdfunding campaign, begin by asking friends and family for donations first. This strategy sets the precedent for larger donations and encourages others to make contributions of similar size. The key is to keep reminding people about your campaign and fundraising goal because as soon as you stop asking for donations, they will stop coming in. For more tips on crafting a strategic crowdfunding campaign to help you cover your medical costs, see this article on how to crowdfund medical bill expenses.


4. Look into charitable options through national and community-based organizations.

While charity organizations can be worthwhile options for some people, due to high demand on charity resources, most of the aid is given to those who are most at risk (seniors, families with small children, and the disabled). However, there are many charity and philanthropy organizations that assist those who can’t afford to pay their medical costs. There have been an increasing number of people turning to faith-based organizations for help with high medical expenses, as well as local community efforts that seek to address this issue. Organizations like Catholic Charities offer assistance to individuals who qualify, regardless of your religion, culture, age, or race. While they might not always be able to help cover your medical costs, turning to a faith-based organization can be an excellent way to get referrals to other local agencies that can offer you assistance. Many global and national organizations have initiatives that seek to address the needs of communities on a local level. The Assistance League, a national organization that bases its efforts in small chapters that directly work to improve their community, provides a list of all their health efforts across the country on its website. Community Action Agencies (CAAs), created and funded by the federal government under the 1964 Community Action Programs Act, are resources that you can access to help pay your healthcare costs. For a comprehensive list of CAAs, see this page on NeedHelpPayingBills.com.


5. Hire a professional to get the job done.

If you feel that you aren’t getting the assistance you need, or can’t negotiate medical billing prices down on your own, consider hiring a private patient advocate who will negotiate with the hospital or doctor on your behalf. Dispute, a national network of advocates who work to save you money by negotiating down your medical costs, offers free case evaluations on their website. After the risk-free assessment of your situation, advocates at Dispute work on your case, price negotiating on your behalf with hospital billing departments. Because of the increasing complexity of medical billing, hiring a professional who understands the system and doesn’t charge unless they actually save you money is a smart way to approach your high healthcare costs. According to a Chicago Tribune article on private patient advocates, hiring an advocate to fight for you relieves stress, provides a piece of mind, and more often than not leads to savings on your end. From taking advantage of possible options already in place, like Medicare, to taking the progressive route by hiring an advocate, there are many strategies to explore on your mission to pay your high medical bills if you’re uninsured. With tactics like crowdfunding, charity, and risk-free assessments for advocacy available to you, never feel like medical bankruptcy is the only option!

Taylor Gordon
About the Author
Taylor Gordon

Taylor K. Gordon is a freelance blogger and personal finance junkie who lives in the nation's capital. She documents her path to financial freedom and adventures in solopreneurship on her blog, Trendy Cheapo.