How to Afford a Major Medical Expense If You Don’t Have Health Insurance

Let’s just cut to the chase. The health insurance landscape is a mess. Many Americans still don’t have health insurance and find themselves facing financial ruin when facing an unexpected medical event in their lives. For Americans who don’t receive healthcare coverage through work or for the many Americans who are self-employed, health insurance may simply be too expensive. It may become even more unaffordable if government subsidies and Medicaid expansion goes away in the near future.

If you are one of the estimated 29 million Americans (as of 2018) without health insurance, praying for good health isn’t a good life plan. What happens if you have a heart attack, fall and break a leg, or get into a bad car accident? Even a short stay in the hospital, a minor surgery, or a visit to the ER can stick you with a six-figure bill. That bill isn’t going away. If you don’t pay, your credit score will get docked, which could haunt you long into the future when you apply for a car loan, home loan, or even look for a new job (some employers will check your credit score)! You’ll also get inundated with collection calls! (Read More: How to Clean Up Your Credit.)

So, what do you do if you have a major medical expense and no health insurance? You don’t have to give up, file for bankruptcy, or move off the grid to escape the collection calls. There are things you can do to lower your medical costs and create a reasonable payment plan.

1. Double Check For Mistakes

According to the Medical Billing Advocates of America, 80% of hospital bills contain mistakes. Do not let the hospital overcharge you! Request an itemized statement from the hospital and then carefully review your bill. Note anything that you don’t understand or that seems wrong. Call the hospital’s medical billing office and ask them to explain. If you feel that you have been wrongly charged or if you need help, hire a medical billing advocate.

2. Pay Upfront for a Discount

If you happen to have enough money to cover your bills (perhaps in an emergency savings account), call the hospital’s billing department and ask for an “upfront payment” discount. Many hospitals will offer at least a 10% discount if you can pay upfront. See if you can negotiate for an even bigger discount.

3. Negotiate a Discount

Even if you could pay a $10,000 medical bill, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t negotiate your bill lower. In fact, no medical bill is carved in stone. Take a deep breath, get your game face on, call your hospital’s billing department, and ask for a discount on your bill. Another great tactic is to use the Healthcare Bluebook to show that prices at nearby hospitals are cheaper than what you were charged. If you can explain why some of the costs were outlandish, you’ll have a better chance of seeing a discount. Don’t be afraid to follow up multiple times, write emails, letters, and ask to speak to higher-ups if you are getting nowhere. Consider that just a 10% discount on a $10,000 medical bill adds up to $1,000 in savings. This tactic is worth the effort.

4. Get a No-Interest Loan

Virtually every hospital and medical facility is able to offer patients no-interest loans. This isn’t ideal, but at least you can create a reasonable billing plan that won’t end up with you filing for bankruptcy. Again, don’t be afraid to negotiate. It is in the hospital’s best interest to get you to pay the most possible each month, but since there’s no interest, there is no financial penalty for you to pay a smaller amount each month over a longer period of time. They want you to pay $200 a month? See if you can get it down to $100 a month. At the end of the day, they would much rather get $100 a month from you than $0, so they have an incentive to bargain.

We strongly encourage you NOT to pay your hospitable bills with your credit card. Just to reiterate – almost every hospital can offer you a no-interest loan, as opposed to credit cards, which can easily charge you 15% to 20% interest or more!!!

5. Financial Assistance

Hospitals don’t like to flaunt this fact, but many of them offer financial assistance, especially to patients without health insurance. You just need to know to ask. The specific programs vary from hospital to hospital. Give the billing department a call and simply ask if they offer financial assistance. It can’t hurt to ask, and you might be able to receive a big discount! (If you do go the credit card route, here’s how to you never pay interest on a credit card again!)

6. Set up a GoFundMe Campaign

No one likes asking their family and friends for help…but that’s kind of what friends and family are for. If you find yourself facing an impossible medical bill, set up a GoFundMe campaign and tell your story to your community. Explain the situation, the amount of the bill, and ask for a little help. When a lot of people give a little bit of money, it can add up quickly!

Ideally, you want to have health care insurance. Even a high deductible policy is usually better than nothing, especially if you have a rainy day fund that can cover the deductible if you should ever need to use it. Consider health insurance as an investment. You are investing against the risk that you will become sick or injured in the future and face high medical costs.

Need help getting on top of your finances so that you can afford to buy health insurance? Consider starting a Money Club in your community! We also have lots of other great resources in our Budgets and Planning article archive for women.

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