Fighting hospital bills yourself can be scary, especially if you don’t know where to start. We’ve listed the top 5 ways to get help with paying (or fighting) your medical bills to ultimately lower the amount that you owe.
1. File For Medicaid
If you have a large medical bill and no insurance, it’s always worthwhile to look into whether or not you might qualify for medicaid. Even if you’ve already received treatment and a medical bill, most state medicaid programs will cover procedures up to 3 months prior to a medicaid application (as long as you qualify for medicaid).
Qualification and application process varies by state, so it’s best to run a website search for your state’s medicaid office to see what the process is and how much they might be able to help you with your medical bills. Many states will even have people at the office who can help you fill out an application.
2. Apply For Financial Aid
Even if you don’t qualify for Medicaid, you still may qualify for financial aid at the hospital where you received treatment. In fact, many hospitals will require you to prove that you were rejected from medicaid before they’ll provide financial aid.
Hospitals will sometimes call this ‘charity care’ – don’t let that put you off. Most hospitals set aside a certain amount every year, and many hospitals have a target goal that they are supposed to reach as part of their mission to help communities (whether or not they actually hit that goal or fulfill that mission is another discussion entirely).
You should ask about financial aid even if you think you may not quality. Hospitals will often provide help with medical bills to individuals and families who are making up to 3-5x the federal poverty line (5x the federal poverty line is over $125,000 for a family of 4).
In order to apply, call up the number on your bill and ask to speak to the financial aid department or a financial aid councilor. They should be able to walk you through the steps to applying and give you an idea of what the qualifications might be.
Be aware that this process can be extremely time intensive and even intrusive. Some hospitals will ask for prior years tax returns, proof of bank account balances, and other detailed documents.
IMPORTANT CAVEAT – some (less friendly and less community minded) hospitals will use the information on your financial aid application against you if you do not qualify for medical bill assistance. In some states, they may even use knowledge of your assets to put a lien out in order to ensure that they can collect something. You should have a good idea of your ability to qualify for financial aid before you apply.
3. Find a Lawyer
Lawyers can be an avenue to turn to, especially if you suspect fraud or medical malpractice. A personal injury lawyer, medical malpractice lawyer, or consumer protection attorney may be a good place to turn to try to lower your medical bills. They can walk you through the issues and give you legal advice on the best path forward.
If there are legal issues with your medical bill (for instance medical malpractice), a lawyer can fight the case in court. In addition, if your case is already in court (from a hospital lien or collections summons), lawyers are best equipped to help you navigate the legal system and ensure that your interests are properly represented.
On the flip side, lawyers charge by the hour and can be very expensive. Those that take cases on a contingency basis will often need to see a clear reason to sue a hospital AND a very large bill (at least $100,000 and likely significantly more).
If there are no legal issues with your medical bill, a lawyer may not be the best option. While most lawyers are trained negotiators – they don’t always have the experience navigating the bureaucratic hospital billing system nor the data and analytics to identify errors and price gouging. You’re paying their high rates for their knowledge of the legal system.
4. Start a GoFundMe (or use another crowd-funding website)
Whether or not you qualify for financial aid or medicare, starting a medically based fundraiser can be a great option to get help covering your medical costs. Over 250,000 people per year create medical fundraisers on GoFundMe, raising over $650 million in total.
In addition, you can use GoFundMe dollars for assistance paying for expenses related to medical procedures that aren’t just healthcare bills – such as transportation, hotel costs, or even to fund general life events in the case that you stopped working due to your medical issue.
With as many medical campaigns as are created on the site, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd and raise enough money to actually cover your expenses. GoFundMe has articles on how to increase the amount that you raise, and Quora has a good discussion on what can be done to improve a campaign. The key to this is to take action, don’t expect donations to just roll in by themselves.
5. Hire a Medical Billing Advocate
Patient billing or medical billing advocates specialize in identifying billing errors, ensuring proper insurance coverage, and negotiating bills down with hospitals.
If you’d like to try to do these things yourself, we’ve written the definitive Guide To Lowering Your Medical Bills that you can use as you walk through the process yourself.
However, it may be beneficial to hire an expert – as depending on the amount of time you have to devote to this and your skills at understanding medical terminology, navigating the complex medical bureaucracy, and negotiating – they may be able to save you more money overall (even after factoring in their fees).
It’s important to note that different medical billing advocates may have expertise in different areas. That is, some will be focused on identifying and correcting billing errors, some focused on filing insurance claims appeals, or negotiating directly with hospitals, and some with expertise in two or all three areas.
When talking to a medical billing advocate, they should be able to articulate what the primary strategy for maximizing savings will likely be, and why. You should also understand how the medical billing advocate gets paid and make sure that you’re comfortable with that setup (some will charge hourly, others on a per case basis, others only if they successfully save money). Finally, you should get an understanding of successful cases the advocates have resolved.Here at Resolve – we use data-driven insights, decades of experience in the industry, and negotiation techniques taught at the top business and law schools to maximize savings. We have different experts focused on billing errors, insurance appeals, and pure negotiations – to ensure that we maximize your savings. For a free consult, call us at 877-245-4244 or click here to schedule a time.
Braden founded Resolve after experiencing first hand how unfair the system is for patients. Prior to Resolve, he built and ran Operations for a renewable energy company and then built and ran Product, Growth, and Operations for a VC-funded edtech company. He received his MBA from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and BA in Philosophy from the College of William and Mary. When not trying to lower healthcare costs he can be found outdoors mountain biking, skiing, or hiking with his dog.