Healthcare costs are a real issue in America, even if you have insurance. Many low-cost plans only cover catastrophic care, leaving you to foot the bill for the bulk of your medical costs.
Even higher-end insurance policies may leave you holding the bag for so-called "elective" procedures that aren't deemed medically necessary. Unfortunately, unpaid medical bills can damage your credit report if they are seriously delinquent and sold off to a collections agency. Nonpayment of bills can also result in a denial of services at your local hospital. So, it's important to pay your medical bills as soon as possible.
What you may not be aware of, however, is that you don't always have to pay the full amount of your bill. In many cases, you may be able to negotiate a lower price.
Many medical offices are willing to give you a discount on your medical bill if you'll pay as soon as possible. Uncollected billings are a big problem in the medical field, so many hospitals offer discounts of 10%, 20% or even more if you can come up with the money within a 30-day period.
In some cases, you won't even have to ask for this discount -- it will show up right on your bill. But if not, you can always ask the billing department if they have any type of early payment discount, and in many cases they will.
Take Our Poll: Do You Think You Will Be Able To Retire at Age 65?
Pay With Cash
Cash is king when it comes to paying for things. This is often true with medical bills as well.
If you can save your medical provider the cost of processing a credit card transaction, you may be able to get a few dollars knocked off your bill. Paying with cash also means your provider gets money right away, rather than having to wait 30 days or more for a credit card transaction to process, so it may be more inclined to give you a discount.
Tell Your Medical Provider You Have No Insurance
Perhaps surprisingly, medical billing can be quite flexible. The cost of a procedure might initially be very high, as a medical provider anticipates that an insurance company will negotiate that price down.
But if you have no insurance, you'll often be billed the same high price. Rather than accepting it, tell your provider you have no insurance and you want to negotiate a lower cost since you can't afford that bill. In many cases, you'll be able to knock down that bill by a significant percentage because even at a reduced price, your provider may very well be getting paid more than an insurance company would pay it.
Set Up an Installment Plan
If you can't find a way to get the cost of your bill down, you don't necessarily have to pay it all in full. Many institutions will allow you to set up an installment plan, where you can spread the cost of your bill out over many months.
Just be sure to read the fine print of any plan you agree to, as there may be interest charges attached. Even if there are, they are likely to be lower than what you'd pay by putting your bill on a credit card, so an installment plan can still be the better option financially.
Research Financial Assistance Programs
If you're a low-income patient, you might be eligible for a financial assistance program from your local hospital. In fact, at least 10 states require hospitals to provide at least some type of free or discounted care to patients that meet low-income eligibility requirements. Among these are California, New York and New Jersey.
Your hospital itself may also offer some type of financial assistance program, with varying requirements.
Don't Let Your Bill Become Delinquent
Regardless of the method you choose to negotiate your medical bill, take steps before your bill becomes delinquent. For starters, once your bill is seriously delinquent, it may be sold off to a collection agency. Not only will that result in endless phone calls and even potentially a lawsuit, the collection agency would report your delinquency to the credit agencies, damaging your score and raising your future interest costs.
For another, medical offices are less likely to negotiate a bill once you have demonstrated that you are either unwilling or unable to pay your bill on time. So if you want to negotiate your medical bill with the most leverage possible, do it as soon as you can.
More From GOBankingRates