A version of this article originally appeared on Learnvest.com.
Okay, so you don’t have health insurance. Or your insurance has a low reimbursement limit or a high deductible. Or, you had to have your wisdom teeth out, and dental isn’t covered. However it happened, here you are, staring at a medical bill equal to the annual budget of a small Caribbean nation.
Not a good place.
Use a Medical Negotiation Service
You may think you have no choice but to pay this ridiculous amount, or else eventually face legal action. But there’s another alternative: Use a negotiation service to bring that stratospheric bill back down to earth. Though some specifics differ, all negotiation services work by reviewing your bill, contacting your doctor or other provider and suggesting a lower price. They do this based on extensive information about “usual and customary” charges.
Medical Fees Aren’t Always What They Seem
While medical practices often act like they have set fees for their various services, they actually accept widely varying payments from different insurance companies, Medicare, and people without medical insurance. Believe it or not, doctors often bill uninsured patients three or four times as much as insurance companies would pay—simply because large insurance companies have pre-negotiated lower rates. So, if you don’t have an insurance company dictating what a doctor or hospital can charge, it makes sense to try negotiation before you pay that hefty fee.
The negotiation service pays for itself from a percentage of your savings, if you have any.
Use Common Sense in Negotiating
It’s obviously a waste of everyone’s time, including yours, to try to negotiate a $25 or $50 co-pay, but any bill larger than, say, $250 is appropriate for negotiation, whether it’s partly covered by insurance or not. You can try to negotiate by yourself and save the fee, but you’ll have to do some research. You’ll need to know going rates for the same procedure in your area. Unless you have access to medical or insurance information, this can get complicated fast.
Don’t worry about ruining your relationship with a beloved doctor—negotiators from legitimate services approach their task in a respectful and friendly manner. You won’t be unwelcome the next time you call for an appointment.
Worst case scenario: You’re no worse off than you were before. Best case scenario: Savings of 50% or more.