Paying Your Hospital Bill

Article by R. Joseph Ritter, Jr. CFP® EA

My phone rang one morning and on the other end the frantic caller was concerned about a hospital bill. On the day of discharge, the hospital requested payment of the estimated co-pay and offered a discount if the discounted amount was paid within 2 or 3 days after discharge. The caller was very concerned because they did not have the means to pay the full amount – in fairness, they didn’t have the means to pay the discounted amount either. The payment method of choice was a credit card for the sole purpose of obtaining the discount.

After talking several minutes, I went with my gut. “Wait for the written bill,” I told the caller. It was a tough call. If the caller lost the discount and was billed the full amount, I would be the bad guy. But I assured the caller that where a discount is offered once, it can be offered again, and the hospital will likely agree to a payment plan. Besides, with one mis-step or misfortune, the interest on the credit card will chip away at the discounted portion anyway.

The discounted amount of the caller’s estimated co-pay was about $750. And the actual bill? Once the insurance company processed the claim, it was $150. In this case, the hospital classified the caller as “admitted for observation” for most of the days spent in the hospital. And yes, the hospital agreed to a payment plan even on the $150.

The lesson learned is to insist on a written bill detailing the charges and clearly stating your obligations as a patient. If you are concerned about not being able to pay your obligation, make a request as soon as possible for hardship consideration. You will have to disclose your financial situation, including your income, however, most hospitals have the means of accommodating hardship patients.

Many hospitals and doctors are not permitted to discount patient bills because of Medicare regulations, even if you are not on Medicare. Therefore, if you are being offered a discount without a written bill, consider it a red flag.

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