How to Lower Your Medical Bills…Simply by Asking

older couple speaking to a healthcare provider

Unexpected medical expenses can be a costly headache even with good health insurance coverage. For those who are uninsured, or have maxed out their insurance benefits or are using out-of-network providers, the final costs for medical procedures and regular doctor visits can be staggering. Many patients go into debt trying to pay off medical bills without realizing that many healthcare providers would have been willing to settle on lower price, had they been asked. Here are some tips on negotiating fees with your doctor or hospital:

Do your research.

The best-case scenario is that your healthcare provider will offer you the reduced Medicare rate-so it's a good idea to know that amount before you go in. You can search for the Medicare costs for particular procedures in most hospitals on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. This will give you an idea of the dollar amount to aim for in your negotiations. With a little bit of research, you'll feel more confident in knowing what to ask for.

Communicate effectively.

Make sure you take your case to the right person. Ask to meet with the billing manager or even your doctor if it's a private practice. Be upfront but respectful with your proposal; doctors have recommended saying, "I'd like to pay the lowest rate you give an insurance company." Doctors and hospitals want to help you-they lose thousands of dollars every year trying to collect unpaid bills and would rather compromise on a fee you are able to pay. Learning to communicate with your provider is an important practice-explain your situation clearly and you might be surprised at how willing they will be to work out a deal.

Pay cash.

Another tip: offer to pay cash up front. Most providers would rather have a bill settled quickly than to deal with a long, drawn-out remittance process, so you're likely to get a discount if you can pay today.

If all else fails, most hospitals and providers should be willing to work out a payment plan with you so that you can get your medical bills paid and avoid going into collection.