Overcharged for hospital expenses? You may be able to lower surprise bills.

It’s an unfortunate reality that millions of people who have gone to the hospital then experience unaffordable bills after their stay has ended. Medical expenses are notoriously opaque. Plus, if it seems like costs for the same service are wildly varied, that’s because they are. Which hospital, insurer, and even which doctor you choose all factor into the end total.

For patients, this means that navigating the healthcare system is confusing and expensive. Often, hospital billing practices make things even worse. Between the terminology and methods used for billing, they turn out to be both expensive and hard to read. Worse, patients may also get bills that are simply incorrect. In fact, studies suggest that the percentage of incorrect bills may be staggeringly high. How high? As many as 80% of medical bills are incorrect.

Yes, you read that right. Eighty percent.

What can you do?

Though nobody looks forward to major medical expenses, you can’t exactly skip going to the hospital, either. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take that may reduce your bills.

The first step is always to read over the bill in full before paying. Look for any incorrect information, like your name, address, and the length of your hospital stay. If any of this information is wrong, call the number on your bill. Now, here are some other tips to keep in mind.

Ask questions.

If you land in the emergency room, you might not feel like you have a choice about what procedures you’ll have. In a life-threatening situation, you probably won’t have a choice. However, if your condition isn’t too serious, it’s okay to ask whether you need every procedure. Try asking, “Why am I getting this?” or even asking if a treatment can be done at a later time through your regular doctor. 

Compare prices.

You know how when you make a major purchase, you shop around to find the best price before buying? Well, you can do this with insurance, too. So, if you know you need a procedure done, try calling multiple hospitals in your area ahead of time. Most hospitals are able to give you a price.

Ask for an itemized bill.

If you’ve ever received a bill with “miscellaneous charges” that add up to a hefty sum, ask for an itemized bill. It’s much easier to spot mistakes on a bill that explicitly lists every charge. Then compare this against your explanation of benefits (EOB) from your insurance company. If at any point you don’t understand something, make sure to call the hospital’s billing department. 

Don’t be afraid to negotiate.

In a survey by Consumer Reports, about 40% of people surveyed attempted to negotiate a lower bill from the hospital. Of those people, 57% were successful in getting their bill lowered.

Nobody wants to deal with surprise hospital bills, but the most essential step is not to panic. Remember that keeping a clear head is essential, because it will help you with the steps above. If you’re struggling to pay for a surprise hospital bill, you may also be eligible for your hospital’s financial assistance programs.

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