What You Owe Isn’t Necessarily What You Owe

Forbes has a good description of why medical debt is different than other forms of consumer debt:

In normal consumer markets, people owe what they owe. In fact, consumers often can’t purchase goods or services until they pay for them in advance. But in healthcare, patients usually receive services before paying the bill, often (as we’ve seen) before even knowing the price of those services. In part, this backwards relationship between payment and receipt of services occurs because patients require urgent treatment, and providers don’t want to take time collecting money before taking care of their illness. Other times it is backwards because providers send the initial bill to an insurance company, not knowing how much insurance will pay versus how much the patient will be responsible for.

Once stuck with these bills, healthcare consumers often don’t know how much they are required to pay. It’s often possible to get the price down 30% to 50% by just saying you’re willing to pay right now but not the full price.

Here are some things you can do:

  1. Don’t assume that what you owe is what you’re going to have to pay.
  1. When in debt, try to negotiate payment with the healthcare provider.
  1. If they don’t knock off 30%, 40% or 50% from the bill, get help from someone who negotiates medical bills for a living.

The bottom line: “Don’t think of unpaid medical bills as fixed debts. Think of them as an invitation to negotiate.