As personal injury attorneys, we see many accident victims who are concerned about their medical bills. Medical treatment — particularly hospitalization — is very expensive. In fact, studies have shown that accident victims pay an average 35 percent of the total cost of their accident out of their own pockets.
In situations where insurance coverage is inadequate or no policy exists, it often falls to the accident victim to pay for expenses out of pocket. Even in situations where insurance is available, it can take months or even years to recover compensation. But hospital bills may be too high for you to afford at once. This causes many accident victims to wonder, “Can I pay hospital bills in installments?”
The answer is yes, in many cases the hospital that treated you will work with you to set up a payment plan to pay down bills over time. However, before you do so, you need to know exactly what you’re getting into and how you can negotiate fairer terms for yourself. Here’s what you should keep in mind.
Be Sure to Check Your Bill
Medical billing offices frequently make mistakes on invoices, and these errors can cost you. Additionally, some send bills to patients before insurance payments have been processed, which can make it appear as though you owe more than you actually do.
Medical billing errors are far more common than you might think — in fact, according to one study, almost 90 percent of bills contain at least one error. These include duplicate charges, cancelled tests, and inflated or “upcoded” billing. There may also be more ambiguous charges, such as line items for “miscellaneous” or “administrative” fees.
Before you begin negotiating a payment plan with a medical provider, be sure to review your bills and make sure they align with the treatment you received. If you’re having trouble making sense of unclear bills, you can even call the medical provider and ask for a line item bill. If that doesn’t help, a medical billing advocate like the Patient Advocate Foundation offers medical bill audits to help patients understand whether or not charges are fair and accurate. A personal injury attorney can also review medical invoices for you and advise you on potential errors.
Contact Medical Providers as Soon as Possible
Most hospital bills are due within 60 to 90 days of the invoice, so it’s important to move fast if you know you can’t afford the charges. If you don’t act, your bill could go to collections, which might cost you additional fees or interest, and impact your credit.
Call the medical billing office as soon as possible and ask about your options. Many hospitals allow patients to pay bills in installments and typically have no eligibility requirements for enrolling in such a program. Some will even offer another type of installment plan, known as an income-driven hardship plan, for low-income patients with high medical debts.
You may also be able to negotiate deferred payments or even debt forgiveness, so it’s definitely worth investigating your options before you make a payment. An attorney may be able to help you advocate for these options as well.
Try to Negotiate the Terms of Your Payment Plan
If a medical provider does provide you with a repayment plan, there may also be leeway to negotiate the terms of your repayment. Medical providers want to receive payment as soon as possible, so they’ll often present you with high monthly installments and interest rates.
However, these amounts are typically more flexible than you might think. For instance, you may be able to request a plan with zero percent interest, and set monthly payment amounts that work for your budget.
Get Help from an Attorney
The practice of falsely inflating charges runs rampant in the medical field. Hospitals use many techniques to intentionally add unnecessary expenses to medical bills. Hospitals also convince accident victims not to use their health insurance, which can end up costing tens of thousands of dollars. This is another area where a personal injury lawyer may be able to help.
A personal injury attorney can obtain evidence documenting the medical costs for similar procedures at other hospitals in your area, and use it to negotiate with your provider for lower bills. He or she can even take legal action against the provider, if your case warrants it. A lawyer can also help you fight against unreasonable hospital liens, which is when a hospital issues a claim against pending legal compensation as repayment for hospital bills.
By helping you negotiate medical debts, lower payments, and repayment options, a lawyer can add tremendous financial value while providing you with options while your case progresses. To learn more about your options for paying medical bills — and your rights and options in your case — contact FVF today for a free case evaluation.