How to Negotiate Medical Bills

Woman speaking on the phone and holding bill.

Most of us don’t have much experience negotiating anything. We pay the price we’re quoted and go about our business. But while there isn’t much to gain from trying to negotiate with the cashier at your local Target, you may be able to save some money by negotiating on your medical bills.

We’ve talked before about your options for handling expensive medical bills, including accessing a hospital’s charity care program (if available). Now let’s explore how to get that process started, including what questions to ask when speaking to the billing department.

Ask for a detailed bill

The first step is always arming yourself with accurate information. If you haven’t been provided with a complete breakdown of your charges, ask for that first.

Make it clear that the current amount represents a hardship

If you can easily afford the bill as is, there’s not much incentive for anyone to help you. Be prepared to make the case for why the amount you’re being asked for is not feasible for you.

Ask about available discounts

There may be standard hardship programs already in place and it’s just a matter of completing an application. Even if there are no standardized programs, they may be able to help you with certain charges or by creating an affordable repayment plan.

Express a willingness to pay to your best ability

You’re not trying to avoid paying altogether. In fact, you’d love to pay the full amount if you could. The goal is to find a mutually beneficial resolution that satisfies both parties, so make it clear that you fully intended to hold up your end — to the best of your ability.

Be persistent (and polite)

It may take more than one phone call or one email. In fact, it may take several over the course of many months. But no matter how long it takes, stick with it. Don’t wait for a callback that may never come (and don’t harass someone either, for that matter). Follow-up regularly.

Appeal insurance denials

One of the main reasons you may be stuck with a massive out of pocket medical expense is because your insurance company denies the claim. Don’t hesitate to appeal a claim denial if you think it’s incorrect. Some denials may be based on a technicality that you could potentially overcome. Be familiar with your coverage and fight for yourself when necessary.

Suggested script for negotiating your medical debt

If you’ve never done any negotiating, it may feel a little awkward to start up that conversation. Here are some samples of things you can say as you move through that conversation.

Introduce yourself

Hello, my name is [Your Name]. I recently received a medical bill and I’d like to discuss it with someone from the billing department.

Ask about bill details

I wanted to make sure that the charges are all accurate. Can you help me understand the itemized charges – what they mean and how much each cost?

Mention any questionable charges

I noticed [specific charge or service] listed on the bill, and I don't recall receiving or being informed about that particular service. Could you provide more information about it?

Explain your issue

I've reviewed the bills, but the amount I'm being asked to pay is much more than I can afford. I wanted to know if there are any opportunities to reduce some of these costs.

Ask for assistance

I have insurance, but there are certain expenses that aren't covered, and the remaining amount is more than I can afford right now. I wanted to know about any discounts, payment plans, or financial assistance programs that may be available.

Ask about a reduction

Based on my research, I found that the average cost for a similar procedure in other facilities is significantly lower. I would appreciate it if we could review the charges and possibly adjust them to be more in line with the average.

Escalate the conversation if necessary

Is there anyone else I could speak to about my situation? I just want to make sure I’ve explored all of my options. Thank you so much for your help and understanding.

Stay polite and positive through every interaction. You may not get the result you wanted, but you definitely won't if you don't try in the first place.

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Tagged in Managing medical bills and debt

Jesse Campbell photo.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, with over ten years of experience creating valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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