How to Finance a Medical Emergency

An OppLoans E-Book

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How to finance a medical emergency without going broke.

No matter how much time you’ve spent imagining doomsday scenarios, few people are ever completely prepared to deal with a medical emergency. Maybe it’s a car accident, a bad diagnosis, or a slip on an icy road – no matter the reason, if you’re suddenly faced with a hefty medical bill, you need to know your options.

Always double check your medical bills for errors.

Your insurance status notwithstanding, you have choices when it comes to paying off your medical expenses. Before you make any decisions about payment, however, you should thoroughly review your bill and ensure its accuracy.

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Claire Freeman, the lead counselor of Compass Co-Pay, a division of Quality First Medical Billing, Inc., said it’s the patient’s responsibility to check for errors on their bill. If you find a mistake, you can personally oversee a medical bill audit or request for a medical billing advocate to review your claim.

“Most patients are intimidated when I first mention auditing a bill, but patients are ultimately responsible to make sure the billing is correct,” said Freeman in a U.S. News and World Report article. 7

Try and negotiate.

In addition to requesting an audit, you can also try to negotiate the amount you owe. Maureen Lamb, medical billing advocate and president of Medical Bill Support, LLC., says the first step in this process is determining the right person to talk to, and remaining persistent until you get them on the line. Generally, you’ll want to discuss your claim with a medical billing manager.

“If you are talking to someone who is sympathetic but unable to fix your errors or negotiate a discount, you are wasting your time,” said Lamb, noting that you can negotiate a medical bill with an insurer, hospital and/or doctor’s office. “[It] may require unique approaches to break through the resistance. When phone calls, faxes and emails don’t work, it’s time to write a letter documenting your request for a discounted bill, and request help from the management team of an organization.”

Before starting negotiations, do your research. Look online to find other medical facilities that charge a lower price for the same procedure you underwent. If you were billed more than the average price, you have some leeway in securing a discount. At a minimum, you’ll likely be able to remove a few fees that will bring down the total cost of your bill. Provided a settlement is met, you will need to request proper documentation and retain all paperwork for your records.

“When you do finalize a settlement offer from your provider or hospital, make sure you get a copy of the agreement in writing,” Lamb advises.

Pay in cash.

Strange as it may seem, the experts we spoke with said that many hospitals and doctors will offer discounts to patients who offer to pay in cash, often at rates far below the market rate for their services. Paying in cash is completely legal and valid way to lessen the cost of a medical emergency, and it’s more common than you might think.

Use funds from a 401k.

According to Jim Stone, a Chartered Financial Consultant and an instructor at the College for Financial Planning, you are lawfully allowed to use funds from a 401k to cover emergency medical expenses. However, Stone cautioned that, “the financial hardship provision allows withdrawals only for immediate, pressing need.” 8

Look for charitable funding organizations in your community.

Even if you get the hospital to lower your costs, you’re still going to have to find a way to pay them. Some people turn to crowdfunding campaigns, using sites like GoFundMe or YouCaring to solicit donations from friends, family and strangers on social media.  Crowdfunding is great when it works, but if you can’t rally up enough support for your cause, there are other places to look for help.

Check out nearby church congregations, local Elks or Lions Clubs chapters, social service agencies or eldercare locators.

Additionally, many hospital and medical facilities offer financial hardship assistance services of their own. Visit the customer help desk at the facility where you received treatment to see if you qualify for medical bill assistance.

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