A dear friend of mine shared an article with me recently about getting out of medical debt. It gave good advice, many things I would also recommend doing, but one thing it does not touch on is time.
I consider my time to be the most valuable asset that I have, so how I spend it is very important to me. Which is also why my wife and I can’t go grocery shopping together anymore.
My lovely bride is the top chef in our family and enjoys looking at ingredients and takes her time in the store. I, do not do that. I walk in, go exactly where I need to go, buy what I need to buy, and hit up the self-checkout line. I don’t think grocery shopping is a great use of my time, so I make it go as quick as possible. Which obviously doesn’t work well for my wife and I.
But since we value that task differently, we assign a different value of time to it. Neither is wrong or
Which is why I think it’s worth reviewing how much time getting out of medical debt will take. Because when you add it all up, it will for sure take weeks, most likely months, and possibly years before it’s a thing in your past.
To get a better idea on that whole process, I’ll break down each step given in the article on how to get out of medical debt and how that translates to the real world.
How long does it take to Check the Charges?
If your bill from the provider comes without an itemized statement, it may take a few days for that information to get to you if it has to come via snail mail. Perhaps longer depending on where you live.
But before you request via snail mail, i would ask if there was an online option. A lot of places are providing this service now and being able to view it online could save you time right off the bat.
Now let’s say you identify a double charge on your statement. You dispute it with the billing office, it may take a few days for a decision on that. Then, they will probably have to rebill the claim to your insurance since the claim needed corrected. Add another few weeks for that to be processed. You’re now at a month you’ve been working on this and we haven’t even determined what you’re going to owe yet.
How long do negotiations take?
Good news, you figured out how much you actually owe. Bad news, it’s a lot of money you don’t have. Next step they recommend is trying to negotiate a lower price.
It’s recommended you call and ask around to get an idea of what others are charging for the same service. My advice would be to skip this step entirely. I don’t think it’s a good use of your time – and this is coming from someone who decides to accept a lower payment from a patient. I don’t care what other places charge compared to ours. I think this advice is better served prior to having the service (if you have the option of choosing).
Asking for a reduced rate can work if you’re willing to pay your share that day. For example, let’s say you owe $20,000 and you offer to pay $10,000 in a one time payment. Depending on the facility, they may accept that. I would start the negotiation at 50/50 and go from there. I don’t think this strategy is nearly as effective though for any amounts under $5,000.
If you’re able, try and make the 50/50 offer during a face to face appointment with the billing office. Whether that’s at the hospital or the provider’s office.
How long does it take for financial aid?
If they’re offering financial aid, you’ll most likely need to qualify. In order to qualify, you’ll need to provide records proving you need the aid. This could be bank statements, paycheck stubs, recent W2’s, and completing a form. Tracking down those statements and filling out the form all take time. How long depends on how organized you are. For some, it could be hours, for others, it could be weeks.
If you do end up qualifying, there may be different levels of charity available. Meaning that your financial aid may be 50% up to 100% assistance. That is certainly a question I would ask when applying so you have an idea of the possible outcomes. This process could also take weeks to be completed. It will be dependent on how often the deciding members of the charity review team meet to review these requests.
Once you have completed the financial aid process, you know are ready to pay your share.
How long will this take to be done?
I have seen it happen so often now I’ve become desensitized to it all, but it’s not uncommon for medical debt to take months of your time just to figure out what you actually owe. And this process doesn’t begin until the claim is originally processed – which doesn’t happen until after a few weeks from the actual date of service. It could be 6 months or longer from your date of service before you finally know how much you’ll need to pay. We haven’t even started making payments yet, which depending on the size of your debt, may take years!
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Which is why I am a very big advocate of having patients prepared to prevent these billing nightmares from happening in the first place. In my opinion, it is worth spending the time upfront being prepared instead of spending years paying off your debt.
Until next time.