“Have you noticed that your neck appears swollen?” That’s what the nurse practitioner asked about halfway through what I had assumed was a routine office visit.
Soon after, I was swiftly catapulted into a long series of office visits that were anything but routine. There were ultrasounds, biopsies, consults with specialists, an invasive surgery, an overnight stay in the hospital, and eventually, the ok from my docs to go about living a normal life.
That’s when the medical bills started rolling in.
Turns out I could kick thyroid cancer to the curb, but it wouldn’t be cheap. Medical care is expensive, not just for me, but also for the one in four American adults under age 65 who have past-due medical bills, according to a recent study released by the Urban Institute.
Still, knowledge is power. At least, it is according to the same Urban Institute study, which reported, “Adults with greater financial knowledge are less likely to have past-due medical debt.”
That’s good news for Wise Bread readers, who are keenly interested in the fate of their financial futures. Even so, a surprise bill, particularly a large one, can take even the most educated saver by surprise. The silver lining here is that there are several specific steps you can take to help minimize the pain that often comes with the arrival of an unexpected medical expense. (See also: What to Do If You’re Hit With a Huge Medical Bill)
1. Scrutinize your bill
According to various sources, as many as eight in 10 medical bills contain some sort of error — sometimes even multiple errors. I’m not surprised. Mine sure did.
When that first hospital bill arrived, it was for more than my annual deductible. A lot more. After suffering what felt like a small panic attack, I called my insurance company. As it turned out, they hadn’t received a bill from the hospital. Instead, the hospital had billed me directly.
It took a few frustrating phone calls, but the hospital ultimately fixed the mistake. Still, had the bill been for a less egregious amount, I may have overlooked the error and just paid it. I mean, how many of us scour the line items of those bills?
Turns out, we should.
“Sometimes, insurance companies or doctors’ offices make mistakes that they don’t realize,” says financial coach Maggie Germano. “They may have simply miscoded something. It’s up to you to follow up and make sure they aren’t charging you when they shouldn’t be.”
2. Negotiate with your health care provider
Looking over an itemized hospital bill…