Health insurance costs and medical debt statistics continue to shock the general public, and with statistics such as the following, it's no wonder. The Commonwealth Fund, a healthcare action nonprofit group, reported in August of 2009 that health insurance premiums for family coverage through employer-sponsored plans had a 119% jump in cost from 1999 to 2008.

They further predicted that if current trends continue, then family insurance premium costs would rise an additional 94% by 2020. Despite clearly rising costs and the likelihood of future rises, most consumers realize that their current Health insurance isn't sufficient protection to guard against accumulating mass uncovered medical debt.

If not, then a quick look at a June sample study by The American Journal of Medicine may be a real eye opener, as it showed medical incidents drove 60% of all 2007 American bankruptcies. The sample study also showed that American families dealing with the repercussion of illness filed for bankruptcy every ninety seconds in 2007, despite three-quarters of those sampled having insurance.

Medical debt is damaging because of the speed with which it can accumulate. A sudden debilitating injury or illness can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in just a few months. Just one overnight hospital stay can easily cost a couple thousand dollars. What does this mean to the general public? It might just mean that your biggest money concern could be your health. So what can you do?

  • An emergency treatment or planned medical expense - either way, it's always financially prudent to have a plan of action to control cost and keep whomever is the health power of attorney apprised of the situation.

  • To avoid needless or redundant cost for routine doctor appointments or hospital visits, discuss your concerns with your health insurance agent, your human resource department at work, or a financial planning advisor.

  • If the medical need isn't an emergency, you can check to make sure that your insurance will cover the procedure, visit, exam, and medication.
    There are also a few steps you may consider if you're uninsured with medical debt -or- are insured, but still left to pay a large medical bill:
    • Experts say that almost every medical bill has some sort of duplicate charge. So, review your bill, taking notes on any questionable charge, and then make an appointment with the billing department to address your concerns.

  • Monitor every step of the process from time of service to billing. When you receive a summary of fees, you should call your insurer and check the payment status. This way you won't get a surprising bill later on if the insurer refuses to cover payment.

  • Despite the above, you might still be stuck with significant out-of-pocket expenses. If so, you can negotiate with the service provider's billing department or financial counselor for a discount on the bill. This is often feasible if you can pay all of a discounted total at one time.

  • The service provider may also be able to help you set up a payment plan.

  • When you've done all you can do alone, a medical billing advocate may be able to help with major uninsured medical debt, usually for a fee of 15 to 50% of the bill amount. A substantial cost, but this person will use their expertise to negotiate with the service provider or insurance company.

  • Some states may also have an indigent care fund to cover portions of substantial medical debt in certain situations.
In the end, your attitude plays a huge role in negotiations. Often the medical community is just as discouraged with how the system is run as you are. So, be calm, polite, and appreciative for any help that's offered. You never know when someone that can't help you today might be able to help you in the future.
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