ATLANTA - Much of the debt we get into we can control, like loans and credit cards. But medical debt is often unplanned, although there are a few ways to mitigate the pain of those bills.
Here's the good news and the bad news about medical debt. Bad news first. Twenty-five percent of Millennials and Gen-Xers have medical debt. The good news is that credit bureaus now give you a break on that type of debt. You have longer to pay it off before it impacts your credit score. And once you've cleared up what you owe with a collections agency, the credit bureaus remove it from your credit score equation.
But let's figure out ways to lower your medical tab so that you don't get into a jam. Atlanta-based ClearPoint, a non profit credit counseling agency, says, go over your bill. All of it. Eighty-percent of medical bills have errors. We're not talking about just being overcharged. But also make sure the insurance code, usually a five-digit number, matches up to the procedure you actually had.
Tara Alderete from ClearPoint says you can actually control your costs before you even have a procedure. Think of it like buying a car.
"You should actually negotiate that. Research and find out what different providers are going to charge for the same service. I know it sounds silly with medical, but it's true. And then when you are armed with that knowledge you say, 'Is this the best that you can? Or, 'If I can pay this off today, do I qualify for a discount?' On the front end."
Here are some ways to do that research. Just pick up the phone and call different hospitals or doctor's offices and get a price for your procedure. Let's say you're getting an MRI. Well, a free-standing facility may be much cheaper than having it done at the hospital. Cross-check it by using something called the Healthcare Blue Book. I looked in my zipcode and found the average price for a hospitalization for an ear infection is nearly $6,000.
Also, know the Medicare cost of that service. That's considered a benchmark price - a look at how low they can go. You're not getting that likely, but you at least know the number. And if you're not going to use insurance, ask for the self-pay price. It's a cheaper.
After you get the bill, you should also try to negotiate it down. Tell the biller that you will pay the bill without delay - even before the procedure if you can - for a discount. If it's a bill you can pay off at once, tell them you'd like a payment arrangement. They'll often do it without interest, but your payments have to be prompt.
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