How to Combat and Reduce Medical Debt
By Wayne B. Zussman
Medical debt is the most common form of debt affecting seniors, according to Financial Web’s article on Personal Debt for Seniors. With financial demands including limited “retirement income, rising health care costs and the expense of long-term housing,” seniors are finding it challenging to pay not only medical bills, but all bills.
For starters, avoid using credit cards and do not mortgage your house to pay medical bills. Charging expenses to a credit card means you lose the ability to negotiate with a provider. Obtaining a second mortgage to pay medical bills could result in foreclosure if you fall behind.
Here are some suggestions for paying medical bills, which may at the same time will help reduce some out-of-pocket costs:
1. Talk with your physician’s office or the hospital’s billing department about a discount and payment plan. Ask the person who is in charge of billing if you could be allowed a discount for services, such as matching the usual and customary fee allowed by health care plans.
Try to work out a payment plan with your doctor or the hospital for a low monthly amount. Make it something you can afford. As long as a patient regularly makes payments, a doctor or hospital is likely to accept this arrangement. Hospitals have debt programs that assist patients in coming up with a plan for payment, as well as the possibility of a reduction in the total bill.
2. Review the bill. This is especially true for hospitals because the bills can often be complicated and long, and hospitals can make mistakes in their billing. For example, bills may include unused products or services that were never provided. When the bill comes to you, look over it carefully for errors before paying it. If the hospital only provided you with a summary, ask for a copy of the itemized list of charges. If you have trouble understanding your bill, ask the hospital’s billing department to go over it with you. Hiring a claims assistant professional can be helpful with large, complicated bills. They do charge a fee, but it may be worth it if they end up saving you a significant amount of money.
3. Find financial assistance with your bills and prescription drugs. Quite a few options are available in this category and most are not well-known, including:
• Apply for government assistance – Many states and counties offer medical bill assistance. The hospital billing or social services departments or government offices can connect you with the appropriate avenues for assistance and can help you find out if you meet eligibility requirements.
• Connect with charities – If you are diagnosed with a certain condition or illness, there may be a not-for-profit organization dedicated to it. Contact that organization to find out if they offer financial assistance to people who have that condition.
• Look for prescription medicine support – These websites help the senior or doctor find out more about eligibility and assistance with prescription drugs: www.needymeds.org or www.rxhope.com and www.rxassist.org
Seniors should explore these viable options for medical expense assistance before the bills become significant. However, the opportunities are not always well-publicized. Discovering and determining the right approach to paying your medical bills may take time and patience. Talk with the doctor’s office or hospital to find a plan of action that works for both of you. A good faith approach to paying off medical debt goes a long way for both parties.
Triton Wealth management is an independent, fee-only financial planning and investment management firm with offices in Annapolis, Kent Island and Gaithersburg. They can be reached at 866 880-7500 or at support@TritonWM.com or visit the web at www.TritonWM.com