How to Negotiate Your Medical Bills Down to a Manageable Size

Doctor consulting patient in hospital
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It happens all the time. You get slammed with a monster-size medical bill and you don't have the funds readily available. If this happens to you, don't panic. There are ways you can negotiate your bill down to a manageable size. Here's how.

1. Don't Wait

Whenever possible, ask for a discount in advance of the procedure or service. Speak candidly with your doctor or the service provider about your circumstances. If you don't have insurance or your provider doesn't cover the procedure, say so. If you're living on a fixed income, a low income, or other factors that make it difficult for you to pay, your doctor needs to know. Many offices and facilities have programs in place to help those who are financially strapped. The important thing is not to be embarrassed and to candidly let people know that you need help.

2. Keep at It

If your initial request for a discount is turned down, try to negotiate using cash as an incentive. Ask your doctor (or the billing manager), if they'd be willing to give you a discount for paying in cash. Point out that your cash payment will save the office credit card fees and staff time in processing paperwork. Especially if you offer to pay at the time of service, instant cash flow is hard to say no to.

3. Go After Old Bills

Sometimes circumstances make it difficult, or impossible, to negotiate medical bills in advance. That's okay, you can still win the battle. Start by looking up the fair market price for the care that you received. This is the amount that providers regularly accept from insurance companies as payment in full, and the amount that you should aim for in your negotiations. You can find this information in the ​Healthcare Blue Book.

Once you have this information, contact the billing department and use the same tactics described in steps 1 and 2 to negotiate a lower payment. If the person you're speaking to turns down your request, politely ask to speak to his/her supervisor. Keep moving up the chain until you reach someone who is willing to help you or, you reach the highest authority.

4. Negotiate Payment Terms

Occasionally, you will come across a service provider that just won't budge on their price. When you find yourself in this situation, don't give up and whip out your credit card. Instead, work to establish a payment plan that meets your needs. Tell the billing representative how much you can pay and when you can pay it. If they ask for bigger payments (and they might), explain that you can't afford to do more. Do not, under any circumstances, offer (or agree) to pay more than you can afford. Falling behind in your payments will destroy any future negotiating power you might have.

5. Make Good on Your Promise

If you agreed to pay at the time of service, do it. If you agreed to send in regular monthly payments, get those payments in on time each and every month. Failing to do what you promised could cause the provider to rescind any discount that was extended to you, and land you in the collections department.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • Remember, insurance companies negotiate with health care providers all the time. You can too, and no one will think you're stingy for doing it.
  • When you get a bill that you can't afford to pay, call the billing department to let them know right away. It's hard to negotiate a bill once it becomes delinquent.
  • Stay polite and maintain your composure. No one wants to help someone who is rude.
  • Doctor fees and hospital bills aren't the only bills you can negotiate. You can also negotiate your dental work and lab fees.