Here it comes again.

That sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you check your mailbox and see the doctor bill for your latest visit.

You don’t know what feels worse. Being sick or the stress of getting the bill afterward. It might sound petty, but while you are happy to be better, the dread of the medical bill is real. 53% of Americans are very worried or moderately worried about not being able to pay a medical bill and it’s our biggest fear, only preceded by the fear of not having enough for retirement.

And we have good reason to worry because the damage is real too.

Nearly 77% of Americans are unable to cover a medical bill of $2800 or more. And even with insurance, it can be a big blow to an emergency fund especially since most insurance maximum out of pocket costs are at least $2000.

It’s bad enough that you got sick and are barely recovered, but when the hospital comes for their pound of flesh and it’s possible you will be going back or further into debt to cover this one. But it doesn’t have to derail your finances. These strategies below will help you lower your medical bills and get them paid off.

1. Don’t discount the ‘little’ places

A great way to save on a bill is to spend less in the first place.

So if you have a cold, pinkeye, or some other ‘mild’ symptom you can spare yourself the larger copay of your general practitioner and try Kroger’s The Little Clinic, Walgreens, or CVS Minute Clinic. They have nurse practitioners and doctors on staff, so you know you are getting great care, and they can refer you to a GP if it turns out your illness is requires more ongoing care. This can save you hundreds if you get colds, sinus issues, allergies, etc.

2. Don’t pay for mistakes

The liturgy of charges for a medical procedure can be unbelievable. And I get that medical terminology can be confusing, but fight the urge to trash the bill. Bite the bullet and scan it for any errors trumping up your bill bottom line.

You might think that with these large companies that errors never happen but you’d be surprised how often a rogue x-ray, and blood test that you never had ends up on your bill. Finding errors is like getting a discount because they are easy to fix and lowers your bill. All that’s required is a quick call to your hospital or physician letting them know of the error and they can clean it up.

The conversation will go like this:

‘Hello my name is Jordanne Wells and I received my bill from ‘No More Pain’ Hospital. I see that there is an error on my bill and need to find out what is required to get this resolved. Can you help me?’

Bottom Line: Getting these problems resolved is much easier than you think so it’s worth the energy to make the call.

3. Check if your qualify for hospital assistance

Ask the physician if there are any assistance programs that you can apply for. There might be a hospital, state, or even county help that is available to you, but if you don’t ask you won’t know.

While you are at it, don’t assume you make too much money to qualify for assistance. Even if you think it’s unlikely, still complete the application and confirm. I know it might feel like a waste of time especially if you are pretty sure you won’t qualify but what’s worse, filling out some long forms or having to go into debt to pay your bill?

Bottom Line: Ask what programs are available to help. Don’t be embarrassed, they are there to help

4. Take all the money on the table, your hospital bill is a negotiation

The hospital may appear to be a large money-grabbing organization, but they are willing to work with patients. They know that it is better to get some part of the bill paid rather than chasing you around in bill collections and still potentially getting nothing.

So once you get your bill and check for errors the next thing you need to do is give the billing department a call. Ask if there is any way they can lower the bill or discount any of the services. You don’t even need a reason, most companies offer a 20% – 50% or more discount right off the bat if you are self-pay (no insurance) or paying in full etc. I’ve even had folks write off procedures completely, no charge to me, so don’t give up, it does happen.

If the first person you talk can’t do anything then ask to talk to someone who can help. Keywords here are ‘someone who can help’. It doesn’t matter how sympathetic a person, if they aren’t in a position to help you then you need to get routed to someone else, like a manager.

You never know, so you must ask early. Folks are much more amenable to helping you if your bill is current and not already in collections.

Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. The percentage they will give you is nothing compared to the markup that they probably charged – like $37 for a bottle of over the counter Ibuprofen.

Bottom Line: There is no risk or fear in asking for a discount because the worse thing they can do is say no.

5. Interest-free payment plans are your friends

Be sure to ask about an interest-free payment plan to cover any balance on the services you receive. Depending on the size of the bill, you could be paying for it for some time, but they will work with a payment you can afford. Just think of it as another fixed expense to cover, automate it, and continue with life.

Don’t believe it can work? I’ve got proof. When I had a car accident, the hospital bill, ambulance, and doctor bills were all separate. While the hospital gave a discount, the ambulance service couldn’t provide one as a state service but was still understanding. I was able to get my payments as low as $10 a month with no interest on the repayment to cover my bill.

Bottom Line: Be positive, people know that times are hard and are willing to help.

6. Get the world to help

When you are sick it’s important to get support from family and friends. You share with them your good and bad days but when it comes to the payment we often get prideful and won’t want to share that we are struggling. If you are dealing with the aftermath of a crazy bill tempting to take your car, home, and have your children drop out of school, then let folks know too.

You don’t want to be a burden to anyone, or feel like you are putting them out, but your friends and family love you, they might be able to help you out whether it be money, meals, etc.

Folks strapped with exorbitant bills can get creative with financing and choose crowdfunding sites to help cover expenses.

Usually family, friends, or coworkers chip in as a last resort to raise money. Folks can use their credit cards, or Paypal accounts to deposit money into the fund. You might not get everything covered but every bit of help helps and the support and well wishes will be helpful too.

Bottom Line: We are all here on this earth to help each other. But if you don’t tell anyone that you are struggling, you rob them the chance to fulfill their purpose and help a person (especially one they love) in need.

Start paying less now!

Now, how would you feel if this bill could be paid off in full without a penny from you?

What if someone gave you half the money for the bill without you having to do anything, just to help you out?

It may sound like a fairy tale, but most people don’t realize that while getting that bill can be very intimidating, no bill is firm.

Doctors can literally be lifesavers and deserve to be compensated for the care they provided you, but if the bill is more than you can bear then seek help. You don’t have to live under the burden of crushing medical debt. You don’t have to delay going to the doctor for fear of the bill you’ll receive. And you don’t have to worry that you are one medical bill away from ruining your financial future.

Many people face these bills every day and are able to successfully work pay down bills with these techniques. Stop living in a life of fear, and pick up the phone, give your provider a call and see what your options are.

You’ll be glad you did

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