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How to deal with daunting medical bills

The numbers make it clear why medical bills overwhelm so many people. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that one out of five seniors (people 65 and older) struggle to pay their medical bills. Nearly half of those surveyed said it would be difficult for them to pay a $500 unexpected medical bill. Thirty percent of insured Americans said they have received bills in which their health insurance covered less than they expected.

A recent article in the Washington Post offered some advice on how people can try to cope with unexpected or overwhelming medical bills or health care costs that you know are coming and are going to hurt financially.

The first piece of advice offered in the article: be proactive. If you have a planned surgery coming, make sure your insurer covers the procedure and the hospital where it will be done. Ask the surgeon if all of the surgical team members accept your insurance (be sure to ask for a written response).

The advice offered also includes the following:

  • Research: whether you are going to negotiate a doctor's or hospital's fees before or after surgery, you should dig into websites that will tell you what insurers pay in our area.
  • Talk to authority: when you call a health care provider to negotiate a bill, the first thing you will be told by whoever answers the phone will be something like this: "I can't do anything." Keep asking to speak to the person who manages the person you're talking to -- until you get to the person with authority to negotiate.
  • Explain yourself: if you can't pay a medical bill, explain your reasons to your health care provider. If you are on a fixed income, retired, unemployed, etc., let the provider know. By doing so, you give them opportunity and reason to offer a discount or payment plan.
  • Get help: If medical debt is overwhelming, enlist an advocate who will fight for you. An attorney experienced in debt settlement solutions knows how to negotiate with creditors, including health care providers, credit card companies, banks and others.

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