In my household, we typically elect our healthcare coverage through my husband’s employer. Rarely are we ever uninsured, but when my husband was laid off in August 2020 and went several months without work, we fell into that category.
Under normal circumstances, being without insurance probably wouldn’t have been that big of a stressor because none of us have any sort of medical condition that requires frequent medical visits and refills. However, in the midst of a global pandemic, being uninsured meant that we freaked out a little bit about what would happen should we need to see a doctor for COVID treatment.
Okay, correction: I freaked out a lot.
COVID hit our household during the Christmas break and thankfully none of us needed expensive medical care.
And so once the scare of having COVID passed, I wasn’t too concerned anymore about being uninsured.
Until one day in early January, I found myself heading to the ER.
Again, thankfully, nothing major came of that trip. I had some symptoms that freaked me (and my primary doctor) out and so it was a precautionary visit.
No matter the outcome, visits to the ER without health insurance mean one thing: costly medical bills.
In today’s blog post, I’d like to share with you something that you should always do before paying any costly medical bills. Whether you are uninsured or just have a ridiculously high-deductible health plan (been there, too), this post is going to hopefully help you stress a little less over those costs.
Take a breath
Before I share that ONE thing you should do before paying your medical bills, allow me a few minutes to first calm your mind about the fact that you’ve just accumulated debt that you likely have no idea how you’re going to pay off: I completely understand how you feel.
Look, as a mom, I tend to put my own medical needs aside and it’s easy for me to care for my kids’ needs and ignore the medical symptoms I’m facing. I’m guilty of putting off appointments because I don’t want to waste the money on something that probably isn’t anything.
And when I accumulate medical bills in the way that I did in January, when it turned out to be a false alarm, I blame myself for the debt and feel like a burden – especially not earning an income by being a stay-at-home mom.
But at the end of the day, my health is just as important as anyone else’s in my household and feeling bad about the cost only adds to the stress. While I can’t entirely remove the guilt, I can choose to just accept that it happened and not dwell on the “what I could have done betters?”
Lessons on medical debt
In addition to coming to terms with the expense (I can’t change the past), there are a few other things I want to share first because it will help you understand how I processed things (and it will lead me up to that one thing you have to do). Here are a few things I’ve learned about medical debt over the years that has helped me stress less about my current situation.
First of all, if you have an emergency trip to the ER, with or without insurance, you’ll likely receive multiple bills. In my case, I received a separate bill from the ER physician, a separate bill from the hospital, and another bill from the radiology department. While it might have caught me off guard once upon a time, it doesn’t anymore.
Second, even though the bill statement will say “your payment is due in full”, you don’t need to actually pay it right away. In my experience, medical bills can take up to 3 months before they will send the bill off to a collection agency (which could then screw up your credit score, so don’t let that happen). If you do receive a bill, take a breath and know that you do have some time to pay them back (*phew*).
If you’re thinking you only have 3 months to come up with the money to pay your bill, rest easy, mama. You don’t have to pay the bill back all at once. I knew this fact going into my ER trip because, in the past, I’ve always been able to set up a payment plan with the hospital or whatever medical provider (mostly when I had high deductible’s during pregnancy). For me, those payment plans might have taken years to pay off, but they were without interest, so it was better than swiping my credit card.
The whole point of this post
Now that you understand that medical bills don’t have to be paid right away or all at once, that brings me to the one thing you absolutely must do when you receive a medical bill – always, always call the billing department.
While this year was the first time that I accumulated medical debt while uninsured, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve called the billing department to discuss my options to pay back my medical debt.
Like I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to pay your medical bill all at once. But in order to make monthly installments, you have to contact the billing department and set that up. You can’t just mail them a check with whatever amount you want (yeah, I still use checks sometimes). You have to request a special arrangement so that your bill doesn’t go into collections.
I know, I know. I don’t like to make phone calls either (and I used to work in a call center), but trust me, it’s absolutely worth it – especially in my case.
Apparently, if you are a cash patient (and you are if you don’t have insurance), you’ll probably receive a discount on your bill – but you don’t know about it unless you call.**
This was HUGE news to me!
Ya’ll, I waited 3 months to the day of my visit to call them because I was dreading finding out how much the monthly payment would be. Come to find out, one of them offered me a 25% discount and then divided the balance up into 18 monthly payments, making that bill way more affordable than I expected.
And another provider offered me a – drum roll please – 40% discount if I paid the balance upfront (*jaw drop*).
Don’t stress paying back medical bills
Hopefully, if you are uninsured, you won’t be for long. And if you are, and you do have medical bills, I hope that you found this post helpful.
Remember: most medical providers are willing to work with you so that you can pay back your debt in a way that fits into your budget. But in order to take advantage of things like discounts and payment plans, you have to do the hard thing and pick up the phone and call.
I know that calling and asking for a payment plan can feel like admitting money problems. Just know that the representatives on the other end of the line are there to help you. Asking for help in the form of a payment plan does not make you a failure. It just makes you human.
Again, this has just been my experience. I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about paying medical bills. But if you have any questions, feel free to send them to me over on my Instagram. I’ll do my best to answer them as honestly as I can. If you found this post helpful, let me know in the comments below or send me a DM on Instagram.
Love & light,
PS It dawned on me a few hours after calling the billing departments to the hospital and ER doctor that I didn’t call my radiology bill department a few weeks ago when I sent them their payment. I probably could have gotten a little discount there, too. *face palm* FOMO feels, for real, ya’ll. Oh it hurts.
**Getting a discount for being uninsured was the case for me. It’s possible that some providers might not do this. Hopefully, you could get a discount, too.