Who among us hasn’t opened up a medical bill and had our jaw drop to the floor over the prices healthcare providers are charging? One aspirin, $50? That Jello salad they brought you at the hospital for $25?
Healthcare providers really don’t think we were born yesterday, but they’re certainly fearless about seeing how much they can charge us for a procedure without us going over the edge. And most consumers think there’s nothing they can do about it.
“The myth that patients have no choice but to pay an outrageous and overpriced medical bill is one of the fundamental causes of our skyrocketing health care costs in the United States,” says Marshall Allen at the Allen Health Academy. “It’s a pervasive misunderstanding that illustrates how we’ve been groomed for exploitation. And the myth even afflicts the smartest among us!”
Allen says we’re all part of the ruse – that overpriced medical bills are just one of the norms working Americans have to contend with, forking over two, five, or ten times what people on Medicare are paying for the same services, provided by the same providers at the same facilities.
It’s not right…
Allen asks the question that if you and I went to McDonald’s and both ordered a Big Mac, we would lose our wheels if you were charged $5 for the sandwich and I was charged $25.
“But that type of overcharging is mainstream in health care. It’s price discrimination against working Americans – immoral and unethical behavior that’s been baked into our healthcare system. We must contest it.”
And contesting it isn’t the rolling-the-snowball-uphill effort we may think it is. In his new book, “The Never Pay Pathway,” Allen says that there’s a little-known clause called the “Open Price Term,” part of the U.S.’ Uniform Commercial Code, the law that governs commercial transactions in the United States.
The Open Price Term says if a price isn’t set at the time of service, it will be a “reasonable” price. And if a patient being stung by a ridiculously high medical bill fights those charges using that leverage, they can save hundreds to thousands of dollars.
The steps to take
ConsumerAffairs asked healthcare cost professionals what people fighting overpriced medical bills can do and it turns out that there are a lot of options. For one thing, Taylor Kovar, CEO of TheMoneyCouple.com and Kovar Wealth Management, says to go straight to the source. “Ask for a detailed report and go through it with a fine tooth comb to see if anything looks fishy.”
And Kovar doesn’t stop there. Other suggestions include:
Pick up the phone and call the billing office to ask for a discount. “Remember that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, so be nice but persistent. They know that they aren't going to get 100% of their bill if it goes to collections so most are willing to offer 50%+ discounts without much of an argument.” Kovar claims that they’ve had facilities offer him 70% off the bill plus interest-free monthly payments as low as $5 per month.
Get in touch with a patient advocate or medical billing advocate. “These people have an obligation to work in your best interest and they know the system way better than you so they are usually able to make progress when it feels like you have had a roadblock,” he said.
Never pay the first bill
Never ever pay the first bill that lands in your mailbox has become the battle cry of consumer protection in healthcare, says Scott Wilson, vice president, Product and Strategic Alliances at Goodroot. Wilson says that one solution that deserves a lot more attention is the availability of financial assistance policies at non-profit hospitals.
“By law, these hospitals are required to maintain a need-based policy that alleviates, or even eliminates the patient's financial responsibility based on the ability to pay, typically based on a multiple of the Federal Poverty Level,” he told ConsumerAffairs. “You may qualify for more assistance than you think.”
The bottom line is simple: every single American has the power to fight overpriced medical bills. Yes, it seems complicated. Yes, it may seem like it requires an Ivy League degree, but saving money is worth the effort in Wilson’s opinion.
“Do your research, see what’s a reasonable expense, and call the provider and ask, in a calm and pleasant manner, for a reduction in your bill. Be persistent, be pleasant, and leverage financial assistance programs as often as possible," Goodroot suggests. "At a bare minimum, simply call the provider and ask this simple question, ‘Is there a discount available?’ Protect your financial health as well as your physical health."