You may have broken your leg, but that doesn't mean you have to break the bank to pay for an expensive hospital bill. Try these tips on how to lower your medical bills.

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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.

Two Services to Check Out

Medical Cost Advocate: This service lets you do everything online, by entering your medical bill, treatment codes, and other information directly into the company’s interface (you can also submit a bill by fax). The fee is 35% of whatever savings they earn you, and they only take on bills that are at least $200. According to the service, typical savings are 20% to 50%.

Hospital Bill Review: As its name implies, this service deals mostly with hospital bills, and is armed with ten years of financial information on hospitals across the country and their pricing policies. The up-front fee is $350, which is refunded if the service fails to produce at least that much in savings. It takes 25% of any savings beyond $350.

Enjoy your new, much more down-to-earth medical fees!

Now that you know how to fight a sky-high medical bill, here’s how to deal with other common billing problems.

-Written by Minda Zetlin

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