How to Negotiate Hospital Bills

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Did you know you can negotiate your hospital bills? Neither did I! Until I had to do it myself.

In 2017, I had to go to the ER for the first time due to a fever of nearly 103 degrees, intense stomach pain, and vomiting. Even though I had health insurance with a zero deductible, I still ended up with a sizable bill.

Negotiating hospital bills is an important skill to learn as nearly every one of us will end up in the hospital at some point or have a loved one who does. And let’s face it, in the U.S., it ain’t cheap—even if you have insurance.

Prevention Is Key: You Don’t HAVE to Receive Any of the Tests They Suggest in the ER

First and foremost, know your rights. When you’re in the ER and you’re not feeling well, you probably will do anything the doctors tell you, but you don’t have to. You have the right to refuse treatment.

When I was in the ER, I was pretty sure my illness was caused by food poisoning. But the doctor told me he wanted to run a CT scan of my stomach and bowels to make sure there wasn’t an obstruction. I didn’t want to do this because I knew it would be expensive and it would expose me to radiation, but I allowed it anyway. That CT scan ended up making up much of my hospital bill!

Understand How Hospitals Work (They’re Businesses)

In the U.S., by law, an ER cannot refuse to treat you. Because of this, hospitals know they will lose money because sometimes people can’t pay. The finance department of the hospital will do their very best to collect on outstanding debts before they send it off to collections. Any money they can’t collect, though, the hospital has to cover itself.

As such, the financial department of a hospital wants to get as much money as they can from you, even if they cannot get all of the balance paid.

That means you’ve got negotiating power!

Here’s How I Did It

My insurance claim from a 2017 ER visit

A few weeks after my ER visit, I received a call from the hospital. I hadn’t yet received a bill in the mail, so I was surprised when they told me I owed them money.

The amount was $321.11 . (Without insurance, the total bill was $6,237.52!)

It wasn’t difficult at all to get them to lower the bill. All I said was, “Do you have any sort of payment plan I could do?”

To my surprise, the woman immediately said that if I could pay $272.94 right now, I wouldn’t have to pay the rest.

That’s right, they offered me a $48 discount for paying right away.

See? Hospitals would much rather get as much money in hand RIGHT NOW than wait and have you pay installments over a long period of time. Because money paid right now is guaranteed; payment installments in the future are not.

Be Kind and Be Honest

Don’t ignore hospital or collections agency calls. Answer them. Ask them if there’s any way they can work with you. Tell them you don’t have the money right now, but you fully intend to pay off your balance. I think you’ll be surprised at how cooperative and understanding they can be.

And I promise I’m not the only one who’s been able to negotiate my hospital bill! Check out this cool Reddit thread about a guy who got a hospital to forgive $605 of his bill!

I hope this information helps you negotiate your hospital bill. It never hurts to ask for a discount!