Medical bills have always been a notorious source of stress for patients on the receiving end. Almost everyone can relate first-hand to the experience of checking the mail, only to find a doctor’s bill they were not anticipating. Moreover, it’s often difficult to decipher these bills, leading to confusion on top of the anxiety of the cost itself.
A study released earlier this year by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that one in five Americans that have elective surgery at an in-network hospital with an in-network surgeon will receive a surprise medical bill. And a recent survey conducted by my company, Patientco, found that over a quarter of Americans would rather have their wallet stolen than receive a surprise bill.
The idea that the health care financial experience has become so confusing and frustrating that people would rather be robbed than deal with it is really telling about the realities Americans face around medical payments.
And now, these issues are only amplified in light of the health pandemic we are currently facing. We are in uncharted territory, trying to stay safe and healthy, avoiding hospital stays and doctor’s visits due to concerns around potential coronavirus exposure and also because these visits add up quickly to costs many can’t afford.
So what are some actions you can take to make medical bills you receive less overwhelming and more affordable? Here are a few steps you can take before paying your bill.
1. Communicate with your provider before the scheduled visit
We often wait until we have received a bill to inquire about the charge and payment plans available to us. But what if you were able to get ahead of the payment to understand your responsibilities before the shell shock of having it appear on your doorstep instead?
Reaching out to your provider about what your payment options are prior to any procedures is a great practice to build into your health care routine.
By communicating early (the earlier, the better), you can find out if the provider has the means to supply you with options such as discounts, payment plans, or financing. This can help you to spread out payments over a longer period of time. With this approach, you’re more likely to receive 10 affordable bills, rather than one or two exorbitant ones.
It’s also understandable that oftentimes, medical emergencies come up that do not give you the affordance to plan in advance. But if it’s an option, I do recommend considering it to add more flexibility around when and how you can pay.
2. If you see something wrong with your bill, say something
If you don’t have the luxury of checking in advance, I’d suggest still reaching out to the provider to understand your bill and make sure the cost the bill says you are responsible for is precise.
Billing mistakes happen often when it comes to health care. This can be due to a provider billing you directly instead of an insurer or a hospital accidentally charging you for more days in-patient than you were there. Even a simple typo can cause inaccuracies in your bill.
So if your bill doesn’t check out as accurate to you, it might be incorrect. Being reactive and contacting your provider to go through the details is a good practice. You might just catch something that saves your wallet from spending funds you don’t actually owe.
3. Explore options to communicate digitally
If your provider enables you to opt into digital communications to receive email or text updates on your balance, take advantage of it. These resources often send notifications directly to your phone, letting you know when payments are due and how much of your balance is left.
There are also some digital resources that could be available to you, including patient portals. These allow you to check in on your bill without having to call the provider. You can see on-demand how much you owe, and you can submit payments directly through the resource, delivering time-savings during the payment process.
And lastly, I think there’s great value in working with health systems to help patients navigate all of their financial options. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish daily through our work at Patientco. Financial barriers often restrict patients from seeking necessary medical treatment due to cost concerns.
By removing these barriers, and bringing compassion to the patient experience, we can together positively change the financial experience in healthcare.
Bird Blitch is the CEO of Patientco, a payment technology company founded specifically to re-think the health care payment experience.