Even when you have insurance, you’re not always covered. Unexpected surgeries, outpatient procedures, or an ER visit can come with unforeseen medical bills. The unforeseen medical bills can be equally as terrifying as the medical emergency itself. TALK ABOUT TRAUMA. Here are some ways to handle the unexpected bills:

Check Your Medical Bills for Errors

The first step is calling the health care facility and putting your account on hold for 30 days. This gives you the time to review your bill and make the necessary calls if you were to find discrepancies without the fear of being sent to collections. From there, you want to confirm whether the bill is accurate. If your bill isn’t itemized, ask for one that is from the billing department.  You want to make sure each service and price is listed individually. Question things like multiple readings of scans or tests, and items like blankets and gloves which should be included in the facility fee.

Negotiate the Bills

Get in touch with your provider, insurance company, and hospital as soon as you can. When looking at the itemized bill, look for charges that seem substantially high. If you spot any, reach out to your insurance company to have them help you negotiate for a lower rate. Make sure you do your research to see what the service or procedure normally costs. You can try and negotiate to pay the market or in-network rate.

Tip: Hold on to all the information you receive including hospital bills, who you’ve spoken with and when, and any relevant emails. Having a paper trail can help you make your case.

Ask for a Payment Plan

Many providers including dentists, physicians, and hospitals can work out payment plans for your bills. This is one of the most common routes to go if you can’t afford to pay your bill in a lump sum. The minimum payment amount will be determined by what you’re able to negotiate off of the bill and the terms. The payments are generally broken up into equal payments over a set amount of time until the total bill is covered.

Tip: Ask to see if there are any fees associated with choosing a payment plan. The last thing you want is to be hit with more unplanned expenses.

Work with a Medical Billing Advocate

Like the name sounds, medical billing advocates focus on helping patients understand their bills, find inaccurate billing, and negotiate costs. If you are not provided with an advocate from the hospital, check with your insurance provider to see if they have a list of advocates that would be covered by your insurance. If neither of these options work, you can hire an independent advocate. The medical billing advocate might be helpful in situations where you’ve exhausted the steps above and aren’t able to lower the bill. Having another set of eyes and someone who is experienced can be very beneficial.

Tip: Keep in mind that advocates from the hospital are on their payroll. Even though they should have your best interest in mind, sometimes they don’t.

The Bottom Line

It can be tempting to ignore medical bills since there is no immediate repercussion like there is with a phone bill, but like any business, hospitals and doctors’ offices usually turn over bills to collections agencies pretty quickly. Once they get involved, it can be very difficult to negotiate your bill down and your credit will take a hit. The best way to handle unexpected medical bills is to be proactive.