Ask Chuck: Recovering From Overwhelming Medical Debt

Dear Chuck,

Our medical bills are huge this year. We chose a high deductible to keep our monthly insurance payments down. But, we never dreamed we would experience this! Between ambulance rides, emergency rooms, hospitals, doctors, medications, and therapy, the bills are catastrophic. We need hope and light at the end of this dark tunnel.

Sick of Medical Bills

 

Dear Sick,

I am so sorry. In the blink of an eye, a medical condition can impact finances in ways we never imagined. An accident, an unexpected diagnosis, a sudden illness, a premature birth. These can blindside us. But, as people of God, let us agree with Paul who proclaimed to the Corinthians:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV)

Here are some helpful tips to stretch your finances during this stressful time or for anyone to be prepared before catastrophe hits. Remember, mistakes happen frequently both in billing and by insurance companies. When you spot them, extend grace, but make sure they get corrected in writing. It may take months to settle the accounts, so be patient and conduct yourself in a way that brings glory to Christ. 

Be Prepared

Start with an emergency fund. Keeping at least $1,000 set aside is necessary. Once you reach $1,000, start working up to 3-6 months of expenses and/or an amount that will cover your insurance deductible. Take advantage of a company health savings account (HSA) which allows you to grow pre-tax money tax-free for healthcare expenses. (It can be used in other ways too.) 

Also be proactive about your health. Eat right, exercise, sleep, and reduce stress. When emergencies hit, depend on the Lord and the body of Christ for strength.

Know Your Insurance

Familiarize yourself with your insurance coverage to possibly save thousands of dollars. Understand these terms: co-insurance, co-pay, deductible, in-network, out of network. Know the difference between an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) notice from your insurer and an actual bill. The EOB shows what insurance will pay on a bill. Do not hesitate to appeal charges that are initially rejected.

Don’t Delay

Quickly organize your bills as they come in. File them in a central place, create a spreadsheet, recruit someone to help you. Do not ignore what you do not understand! Make calls and politely get all questions answered. The sooner you act, the sooner you will understand what is required of you. You will protect your credit score and the pain of debt collection. 

Billing Errors

  •     Check each bill for accuracy and ask about any charge you do not understand.
  •     If discharged from a hospital stay in the morning, make sure you are not charged a full day rate.
  •     If you brought your own medication, make sure you are not charged for it.
  •     Check routine supply fees which should be covered by daily room charge.
  •     If bills are coded wrong, insurance may not pay as much as it should. Know coding vocabulary so you can catch errors and discuss them intelligently with a billing office: balance billing, duplicate billing, mismatched coding, unbundling, and upcoding.

Ask for a Discount

  •     It doesn’t hurt and you may be surprised at how much it helps.
  •     You may qualify for charity care.
  •     Request a discount if paid in full.
  •     Ask your insurance company for help. Out-of-network charges may be covered if no in-network is available to you.
  •     Compare your charges with other hospitals and physicians near you. Insurance companies should provide the data. If your fee is completely out of line, provide the information you gather in a phone call or visit to a billing office. 

Consider These Options

  •     Offering cash (check or debit card) may grant a better discount than a credit card.
  •     Request an interest-free payment for as long as possible and pay on time.
  •     Don’t use your credit card unless you can pay it off in full at the end of the billing period.
  •     If the majority of the cost is covered by insurance, request that your copay be waived and the bill paid in full. If a phone call gets you nowhere, write a letter to the manager of the department. File his/her response.
  •     Seek the help of a patient-advocate or a friend who will speak on your behalf.

Always Be Polite

Honor the person you address. They are attempting to do their job. Treat them with respect, but be persistent, never rude. You may have to deal with them multiple times, so do all you can to build an amicable relationship. Never put a person on the defense. You want his/her support!

Whenever possible, get their response in writing.

Finally, pray and give thanks for every way God provides. In challenging times, it can be difficult to see all the ways in which He has provided. Take time every morning to write down what He’s provided, what you’re grateful for, and adopt a grateful heart.

 

Originally published on the Christian Post, August 2, 2019