By Sean A. Kelly
Life is full of surprises. Sometimes just when you think you have things under control, life goes and throws you a curve ball. Medical debts are one such curveball that you probably could do without. However, many Americans may not have health insurance and they may find themselves in huge medical debts. For those with health insurance they may suddenly receive an unexpected medical bill that they thought was paid for by the insurance company only to find out that the treatment they went through was not covered by their insurance and now they must be responsible for it. When such a thing happens, you may want to brush up your haggling skills because you might need to negotiate medical debt with the hospital or doctor that you went to for your treatment.
My friend, Sam, learned how to haggle with her doctors and hospital bill collectors the hard way. Sam had no health insurance and when the bills came for her daughter’s surgery, she panicked. She was already working two jobs but still could not afford to pay the hospital bills. Basically it would clean her finances out. So what was a desperate woman to do? Sam decided to try to negotiate medical debt with the hospital. Of course, Sam had no training in negotiating anything nor was she formally educated when it comes to finances and medical bills. She just had to do what she had to do. The first thing Sam did was to go straight to the doctor. Although she was intimidated by the doctor she knew she had to speak up. Sam explained about her financial situation and asked the doctor to consider giving her a discount and a payment plan so she could pay her debt in installments.
The doctor, although very helpful, could not really offer her the discount she needed because according to him only the hospital could do that. So Sam had to take her somewhat limited debt negotiation skills down to the billing department. However, she went into the lion’s den unprepared so suffice to say that she was unsuccessful in her quest. Sam went home quite dejected but she picked herself up and started to educate herself on the things she would need to do to successfully negotiate her way out of a huge medical debt. She decided to work out a clear repayment plan that would suit her monthly budget. She could not pay her debts all at once so she worked out an installment plan based on the amount that she could spare every month. She also made a point not to add more to her debts by paying off the hospital bills with her credit card because she thought that would only make matters worse.
A few days later, Sam went back to the hospital better prepared and met with the bill collector to negotiate a debt settlement with the hospital. Of course, the hospital representative was not too happy especially when Sam asked for a reduction in the pay off amount. But this time Sam came prepared. She laid out her financial situation as comprehensively as she could and even provided documents to show that there was simply no way she could afford to pay the hospital bills in full with her current income. She also asked the doctor that performed surgery on her daughter to help her convince the hospital representative to allow her to pay off her debts in installments. When she showed the representative her complete repayment schedule, she got what she came for.
Basically, Sam’s predicament could happen to any one of us and like Sam, we probably would not know how to successfully negotiate a debt reduction. On the other end of the spectrum, hospitals may also be a lot like other creditors. They would not like to lose all their money. So by showing them your earnest intention to pay your bills, albeit a reduced amount, they may find debt reduction more favorable as opposed to having to dispose off your debt as bad debt. You may have to educate yourself on negotiating skills like those of Sam but if you are persistent and stay on your course you may be able to save yourself the stress of paying off a huge debt.
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