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Making it in San Diego: How to deal with large medical bills

Simple steps to save thousands on medical costs
Posted: 6:22 AM, Jul 20, 2018
Updated: 2018-07-20 18:51:43Z

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Unexpected medical bills can be disastrous on a family budget. Some even lead to bankruptcy. But healthcare experts say there are things you can do before and after an illness to save thousands.

Samatha Ready runs Viveesa Healthcare Advocates in San Diego. She says her phone rings constantly with people who feel overwhelmed by medical debt.

"When you're sick, that's time you should be able to care for yourself, get appropriate health care, rest, be with your family," says Ready. "Instead, it becomes the biggest uphill battle of your life."

To fight that battle, Ready says everyone should take these steps before they seek any kind of medical care:

  • Establish a good relationship with your primary care doctor. Get regular check-ups. This can help you catch problems early when treatment may be less expensive.
  • Study your insurance plan and know the following things: your deductible, your co-insurance, your out-of-pocket maximum and which doctors/providers are "In-Network".
  • Go to Urgent Care instead of the Emergency Room if possible.
  • If you have a planned surgery coming up, ask the hospital for a list of charges upfront. You can even negotiate ahead of time to bring costs down.
  • Keep important medical information, like your insurance policy, allergies and emergency contacts in your wallet or purse.

But, if you wind up in an emergency or have to have a major surgery and get a big bill, there are ways to bring the charges down.

  • Ask your provider to "freeze" your account. That means they can't collect payment or turn it over to creditors. Ready suggests asking for 6 months.
  • Ask for an itemized bill with a full list of all charges. Then check those charges to make sure none are out of the ordinary. Ready says a lot of that information is available online.
  • Make sure your provider applied your insurance to all the charges.
  • Ask about payment plans or if your provider will offer a discount if you can pay in full.
  • Use all of your appeals and reviews and be prepared to negotiate.

The process can be time consuming, so Ready also advises people to get an advocate. For a fee, they can do all of that for you and handle all the negotiations.

"It's all about persistance, it's all about organization, it's all about the way you present the facts and keep on sending in the appeals," she says.

Websites like advoconnection.com and the American Public Health Association  can help you find and vet an advocate. Some employers also offer the service.

Above all, Ready says, get the care you need.

"Your life is more important and valuable than a medical bill. We can deal with it after. There are ways we can solve with the problems."