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How to Challenge a Medical Bill

The world (and the internet) is full of medical bill horror stories, from massive costs for uninsured patients undergoing extensive treatments to denied insurance claims wreaking havoc on families and loved ones. Getting stuck with a large medical bill can put a major crimp on your bank account, savings, credit score, and financial future. So how do you challenge a medical bill?

1. Act Quickly

It's worth repeating that bills usually have a due date. While these deadlines can be extended, challenging a medical bill is best done from a fairly early point. Acting quickly can make writing down your account of what's happened and keeping paper or electronic records easier -- a common problem after time elapses.

2. Keep Detailed Records

Many hospitals, doctors' offices, and insurance companies will bombard you with paper. Bills, invoices, letters, and more provide a paper trail should patients dispute or challenge a bill. You should keep everything they send, and in turn keep records of every letter or email you sent or notes of any phone calls you make. It'll pay off later.

3. Dig for More Info

About those records ... they're not necessarily meant to be informative -- to you. What's being charged, why, and (especially) whether it's reasonable are questions that you may have to request clarification about or seek out on your own.

Politeness can go a long way here. Insurers especially will be on the lookout for the early signs of lawsuits, and aggressive or angry calls and emails are a giveaway. And it's often true that Ted from customer service doesn't know the answers to detailed questions, but should know where to refer them.

4. Negotiate

Most major bills can be negotiated down. Getting paid - even if not paid at the billed rate - matters to creditors of all stripes at the end of the day. Especially for the uninsured, doctors may give discounts. Insurance companies might settle for a lesser amount rather than have a dispute drag on with little chance of recouping at the end. While it can be a new experience for many, negotiation is often worth the discomfort.

5. Get Help as Needed

There are professionals out there who can help you research, negotiate, and settle medical bills in particular. For situations where you can't come to terms with an insurance company and doctor, you can also speak to a lawyer about it.

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