Paying Off Medical Bills by Organizing and Negotiating

I do so many little things on a day to day basis, to try to save every little penny that I can, or to earn any little penny that I can. I have to, or else we run out of money by month’s end. Some people don’t have to, but they’d like to be able to give more to needy people (this is what we plan to do when we’re finally financially free). But until then, here’s one simple way that I save money, and you can do it too!
Organize and Negotiate Medical Bills
We always have a ton of medical bills.  My husband has a chronic illness that requires specialized services every 6 weeks.  My oldest child has asthma and food allergies that require frequent medical attention.  My middle child is accident prone.  And we keep up with well visits for each member of the family.  So we visit the doctor often.
At one time, back in 2006, each member of our family had been in the hospital at least once during a two-month time span.  Although we had medical insurance, there were still copays and coinsurance we needed to pay.  I had given birth, Laynie had been in the NICU for 8 days, I had another 4-day stay for a serious infection, then 5 days of in-home nurse services, then Chris had to have surgery on some kidney stones a couple of months later, well…
The bills began arriving 3 months later. I had gone back to work, and was frazzled (teaching public school, working 10 hours a day, and exhausted). Chris had lost his job and was scrambling to find another one. The bills were overwhelming, and outrageously confusing! We had over 30 separate bills from doctors, surgeons, anesthesiologists, pathologists, whatever you can think of, we had the bills coming at us constantly. It was all very confusing.
We did not have it organized. We couldn’t afford to pay them all. We forgot which ones we had begun monthly payments on, and which ones we had even paid at all. There was literally, a pile of bills, some opened, some unopened, on our countertop, 2 feet high! If we had kept them organized as they arrived, perhaps it wouldn’t have been so overwhelming a task to tackle each one, and to remember which ones we had paid and which ones we hadn’t.
We were in over our heads in medical debt, and with my husband’s job loss, we were sinking more and more each day. I got so discouraged when I tried to pay the monthly amount that each bill required – $50 per month here, $100 per month there, then another $60 per month here… you know, multiply all those monthly payments times 30 of them, and you’ll realize how expensive it was getting.  There was no way we could pay it all with such high monthly payments for each one.  Needless to say, our once-perfect credit score became um, no longer perfect.
Well, anyway, to get to my point… Since then I’ve learned that you CAN negotiate with your monthly medical bills. Call the place, BEFORE they go into collections, and try to work out a deal. Explain the situation, and they’ll usually work with you. When your bill is turned over to collections, the doctor’s office has to sell it to the collections agency for sometimes 50% what it’s worth. So they’d much rather work out a deal with you, so they’ll at least eventually get their 100% payment, even if you can only pay them $5 a month. And, follow these tips:
  1. Keep the bills organized. Keep them in an organized file cabinet, for example, so they’re easy to pull out for frequent reference while negotiating. 
  2. Jot down when you paid them, who you talked with and when, what payment schedule you were able to work out, etc.
  3. Pay them off as quickly as you can possibly manage, because if your family is like mine, you know that medical bills will just keep rolling in. 

Of course, we learned all this when it was too late for us, and many of our bills went into collections, or we were stupid and put them on our credit cards.  But the ones that we were able to negotiate on have been so much easier to handle.  I was able to negotiate some of them to $5 per month!
We began following Dave Ramsey’s advice 6 1/2 years ago. Now that we’ve paid off our credit cards and car payments, we’re able to begin putting larger chunks of money toward these medical bills that have plagued us for so long.  Although we’re gradually paying them off, they keep coming, so we’ll probably always be in medical debt.  But now I realize that medical debt is not so scary when you take the time needed to organize and negotiate, and stay on top of it.
I hope this information saves you if you come upon hard times with medical bills. I wish I had known at the time, but you know, you “live and learn.” I hope you’re able to organize and negotiate if you’re ever in this situation, and don’t give up.
Have you been in this or a similar situation? How did you get through it? Maybe you can offer some advice to my readers as well.  Share with us your stories on the Facebook page.
This series of posts was originally published in 2010, and I am just recently editing and updating them, just for the fun of it.

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