How My Family Negotiated Over $5,000 In Medical Bills

How My Family Negotiated Over $5,000 In Medical Bills Featured

I’ve worked for a medical billing software company for almost a year now and I’ve learned a thing or two about navigating the complexities of the nation’s medical issues. Not until recently did I ever believe I’d apply some of those skills to real life.


Enter the seemingly healthy family of four. My direct family – including my mother, father, older brother, and myself – are incredibly lucky in that we have been generally healthy our entire lives… with the exception of the occasional emergency hospital visit (my brother was very accident-prone in his teenaged years.) But over the past few years, things have changed. We are… dare I say it? AGING. (Cue gasps.) I’m experiencing health issues that I never before encountered simply because I’m growing older. More stress, less sleep, and much to my dismay, my body can’t handle an entire carton of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting the way it used to. My entire family is experiencing the same thing. Weirdly enough, we all started to show it when we collectively totaled $5,000 in medical bills within a few short months. 


It all started with a foot. You’re probably asking yourself, “Did I read that correctly?” Yes, you did. The whirlwind of doctor visits all began in February when a harmless (or so I thought) scratch on my foot led to a 3-month long skin infection. To add fuel to the fire, this all took place right before I left on an international vacation. Great timing, right? Needless to say, I needed to explore my options to pay my medical bills, and fast.  


But wait, there's more! At the same time, the rest of my family began to rack up some impressive medical bills. From dermatologist visits, to dental work, to long-needed shoulder surgery – it all happened in one fell swoop. Regardless of the fact that all of us have excellent health coverage, we needed to consider alternate options. So, what did we do to combat these hefty medical bills? I should begin by telling you this. If we had not considered the following, we would have collectively paid upwards of $5,000 in bills. We paid only a fraction of that cost. This is how we did it:


We created a frank but polite dialogue. No one really wants to challenge their doctor. It seems a little strange, doesn’t it? Asking a trusted individual (who also spent the majority of their adult life in medical school) whether or not the prescription they just handed you is REALLY the best option for you financially. The fact of the matter is; you won’t know until you ask. You could potentially save yourself hundreds or even thousands of dollars if you try. My dermatologist wrote me a $500 prescription, but I walked out of his office with a less costly alternative simply because I asked him if there were other options available based on my budget. I also proposed that if an alternative medication met my budget, I would pay the entire bill upfront. That’s a huge incentive for any practice. (As a side note, if you can’t pay it all upfront, some providers will offer a discount if you can pay within 30 days.) At the end of the afternoon, I left his office saving $300 and his practice was paid in full the same day, for both service and prescription. 


We did our research. My father prepared himself for a much needed shoulder-surgery by exploring options within his health network before deciding on a provider. Thanks to the Internet, it’s easier than ever to compare rates. Websites like FAIR Health, Healthcare Blue Book, and New Choice Health provide local averages or a range of fees charged by providers near you. After narrowing his options down to two, my father called both providers to discuss what his policy would cover and how much his out-of-pocket expenses would be. 


We asked about payment plans. After undergoing minor dermatologic surgery, my brother needed a convenient, interest-free payment plan that aligned with his income. As an added kicker, he also happens to be a recent law-school graduate. Paying for student loans AND surgery, on top of everyday bills, is not an easy feat. That’s the beauty of patient payment plans. They allow you to easily pay over time so you’re in control. Many providers have this option, but you have to do your research and find out what plan works best for you. Even if your income is well above poverty level, like my brother’s, don’t assume you won’t qualify for payment plans, or financial aid, for that matter. There are programs that help you spread out payments regardless of your income, especially for patients that are facing medical bills that are due within a year.


Other considerations. My family was incredibly successful in lowering our medical costs. However, not every person has the same experience. And some people don’t feel comfortable negotiating with their providers. That being said, there are other options to take into consideration. If all else fails, consider contacting a healthcare advocate – because sometimes it’s easier to have someone else negotiate on your behalf. There are also nonprofit groups like The Patient Advocate Foundation that will negotiate for you free of charge or for a small fee. 


Remember this! Your health is far too important to skimp out on quality and necessary care because of cost. Be proactive! Do your research, explore your options, and speak up! You won’t regret it

Jenna Tropea

A social media and marketing junkie, Jenna Tropea covers a range of topics from healthcare technology to policy and regulations. Jenna received her MBA from Clemson University and enjoys discovering and sharing the latest news in health IT breakthroughs.