Surprising Ways to Lower Medical Bills
Bills for medical services are a big problem in the U.S. Medical debt looms over the heads of 1 in 3 Americans, forcing many into bankruptcy, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. As scary as that is, many would be surprised to know that there are many ways to lower medical bills and make them more affordable. The best way to start with large bills is by checking for errors, which are found on as many as 80% of all medical bills, or by connecting with a professional billing advocate to help.
But what about smaller bills, or those that don’t have errors? After all, even a $1,000 charge can be considered “small” for a medical bill, but would set a lot of us back for months. If this applies to you or someone you know, you’re not alone. Depending on your income status and willingness to put in some effort, there are some other avenues you can pursue.
Hospital financial aid
For very low-income individuals and families — generally those below 200% of the federal poverty guideline — many hospitals offer partial or full bill forgiveness. Some hospitals offer discounts to qualifying patients with household income up to 400% of the federal poverty line. Many hospitals have financial aid information on their websites, but not all, so if you think you might qualify for aid and can’t find any information on the website, call the billing department about possible financial aid.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, the number of uninsured patients is at its lowest level and will probably only get lower, even when it comes to poorer families. For those who are insured but still have insufficient income to pay their medical bills, some charitable organizations are willing to help. If you’re a churchgoer, start there. Your church or religious organization may have connections to faith-based charities that help families of their denomination or are non-denominational. Or, your religious leader may be able to rally the congregation around you and your cause to help you in your time of need.
If you’re not really the religious type, check out your local Elks or Lions Clubs, which don’t stop at scholarships. Local chapters usually set up trusts for local families in need of many types of assistance, and medical bills are often on the list. Otherwise, your hospital or medical center’s patient services department should have a listing of charities that help with medical bills. A partial listing of U.S. medical charities can be found here, mostly those that provide help for a specific illness, though you’ll have to navigate to the charity’s page from the listing. Many of these are disease-specific charities, meaning they provide help only to patients and families with a specified illness.
Drug assistance programs
When it comes to drugs, most people could save up to 85% by switching to generics from their brand names, if available. However, this option is just not possible for those taking newer medications or biologics that can cost more per year than many incomes. In fact, some biologics cost three times the current federal poverty line for the lower 48 states — tens of thousands of dollars per year. If you take one of these drugs, you may be aware of the manufacturer’s assistance program, which often pays for the drug up to the cost of your health insurance deductible, after which your drug should be fully covered. Not all assistance programs are this comprehensive, but nearly all pharmaceutical manufacturers have them.
Your drug costs don’t have to exceed your income to strap your budget, though. That’s why discount pharmacy memberships and general drug assistance programs exist. Pharmacy memberships are simple: by staying loyal to one pharmacy, whether locally or online, it rewards you by discounting your drugs and offering special coupons. Drug assistance programs are similar but work at many pharmacies and are often run by nonprofit organizations or makers of a specific branded drug. To find one, check on your drug maker’s website for medication-specific discounts, then peruse this listing from the federal department of Health and Human Services.
Many creative people use crowdfunding to raise money for inventions and art projects, but medical bill crowdfunding is the largest-growing sector of this new online phenomenon. With crowdfunding, friends, family and strangers come together to donate small amounts of money toward your cause. You don’t have to have a huge bill or a life-threatening disease for it to work, either. Many people are sympathetic to people in need and see crowdfunding as a nice alternative to charity because they get to see the faces of the people they’re helping.
There are other advantages, too, says Sandip Sekhon, founder and CEO of CauseWish and GoGetFunding, two unique crowdfunding platforms. “Crowdfunding is extremely powerful, and it’s important to remember just how easily worthy causes can reach their goal,” he says, highlighting the valuable role social media plays.
“For example, to reach a $10,000 goal, you just need 100 donors donating $100,” Sekhon explains. “When you consider that most people have 300+ friends on Facebook, getting 100 donors isn’t that tough. And for medical causes, we often see individual donations of $1,000 to $3,000 or more.” Indeed, both of Sekhon’s platforms have helped people all over the world raise tens of thousands of dollars for medical needs, cancer treatments, braces, walking devices and more.
Deducting medical expenses on tax returns
Regardless of income level, medical expenses are tax deductible for 2014 if they exceed 10% of your income, or 7.5% if you or your spouse is 65 or older. Of course, this might not help at the time your medical expenses are due, but it can help in the long run. This deduction covers many non-traditional medical fees, like chiropractic care or acupuncture, as well as in-home care and traditional medical fees. It also includes payments for medical-related transportation, prescription drugs, addiction services, and most dental expenses. To learn more when tax season comes around, visit the IRS’s information page.
Medical bill image courtesy of Shutterstock