How to Pay Unexpected Medical Bills

With the virus and pandemic happening in the world today, there is a lot of fear around how to pay medical bills.

I am now immune compromised, so it scares me when I see when I see what is happening to so many healthy people.

As someone who has experienced respiratory issues in the past and then dealt with high medical bills, I thought I would share my story.,

I hope are never in this position, but I would like to share some steps you can take to take financial control of your medical bills

While this post was published in 2015, parts of this blog post have been updated in 2020

How My Illness Landed ME In The Hospital

In early 2015, I had upper respiratory failure and nearly died.

Those are three words that I still have difficulty swallowing and that still scare me very much as I have had continued, ongoing issues..

I’m a fairly healthy individual with no prior medical history, so this was very scary.

My cold turned into bronchitic and then pneumonia. My body was struggling to breathe and was physically shaking because my chest and lungs couldn’t get enough air.

I made the decision to go to the emergency room and fortunately, was taken to the back immediately. It was scary because doctor after doctor was looking at me and no one could figure out what was wrong with me.

My breathing got worse and worse, and before I knew it, I passed out.

Everything that happened next was a blur. I was transferred hospitals in an ambulance but have no memory of this.

I was put into an induced coma. Intubated, I was on a breathing machine until my body could stop shaking and recover. Because I wasn’t moving, I was given a catheter.

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Waking up in the ICU was very strange. There was a nurse sitting next to me who told me it was a miracle that I woke up.

My mother was there and I can remember her staring at me very concerned.

All my clothes had been destroyed as they had to use scissors to cut everything off me for a medical gown.

This even caused me to create an emergency plan for the future and review my life insurance policy.

Scary, right?

When I moved to Seattle from Florida, I found myself constantly having a cold or sinus infection during the rainy season but didn’t really investigate why that was happening.

For some reason, my body just had a really hard time adjusting to such a drastic change in climate and I was constantly sick.

I even joked to my parents that maybe I’m not cut out for this lifestyle change and maybe I’m allergic to Seattle. My doctor made the serious statement that I should move back to Florida.

It turns out that maybe we were both right!

While I still meet with my pulmonary doctor, asthma specialist and now an allergist, at the time I had to deal with shocking hospital bills .

Medical Bills From the Hospital

The amount of bills and paperwork I received was out of control!

It can really be overwhelming at times, but try to stay organized and in control of everything.

Related reading:

Keep a Copy of All Your Medical Bills and Statements

Organization is really important when it comes to keeping track of all your medical bills and statements.

I keep all my bills and paperwork in a manilla envelope, but you could use a binder or folder..

Everything is in chronological order by date and neatly filed.

On each bill, I also write down the date I paid an invoice with the payment method.

This comes in handy incase I need to reference a bill.

If you have opted to receive your bills online, print these out. Otherwise store your bills in a clearly labeled file online.

Don’t Pay Your Medical Bills Right Away

It is impossible to know how many medical bills you will receive in the mail.

There are so many different doctors and departments that issue invoices that it can be overwhelming.

Instead of sending in a payment right away, I waited thirty days to make sure I was not being double billed for anything. The worst thing you can do is submit a payment early and then realize you have already paid it.

It is a battle to get your money back once you have paid, so stay aware of all your bills as you pay them.

Many of my invoices look nearly identical. Compare bills, doctors and medical codes before sending in a payment.

Watch Out For Double Billing

Recently I paid a medical bill, only to receive a nearly identical bill in the mail a month later.

In fact, it was the same bill but with another line item added to the invoice.

When I called the billing department to ask for further explanation, I was told that they “forgot” to take off the line item I had paid and apply payment.

If I had not monitored my bill so closely, I could have ended up double paying one bill.

Negotiate Your Medical Bills, Especially in the Beginning

If you do not have health insurance, many hospitals will give you break or discount off your medical bills.

It is in your best interest to call the billing department within 90 days of receiving your bill.

After this time period, your account can be considered overdue and you might have a harder time negotiating.

Many will offer a standard 10% discount upfront if you pay in full.

Depending on the hospital, they will work with you on a sliding income scale. This was very frustrating for me as I was told I did not qualify for any discount because I made over a certain amount of income.

The hospital did not seem to care about all my expenses, which can be very frustrating.

Set Up A Payment Plan

I assumed that all of my bills would be from the hospital, but this was not so simple.

I had specific hospital bills, such as different bills from different doctors, testing, medication, various departments to bills and from the hospital itself. It was hard to keep up with it all.

At the time, I had a high deductible plan through my employer and owed nearly $10,000 in medical bills. This was after my insurance paying nearly $300,000 for my medical stay.

You will be offered an interest-free payment plan based on the size of your bill or bills. I had multiple companies that billed me.

Hospitals want your money and do not want to turn your account over to a bill collector.

If you are not able to pay your bill in full, contact the billing department and ask to be set up on a payment plan.

I did go back and forth with the medical billing department until we could reach an agreement that I could afford each month. At the time, I paid around $130 each month, interest-free.

It is important to point out this did not get reported to the various credit agencies, unless I were to default and it went to collections.

On a side note, I never really understood insurance until I got sick. I learned afterwards that just because my employer provided insurance at the time, it wasn’t the best plan.

Today, I am self employed and have a much better health insurance plan.

Work With A Local Charity

There are many local charities and organizations that will assist hospital patients who do not have health insurance or have financial restraints.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, ask your hospital to provide you with a list of charities that work in conjunction with the hospital.

For example, when my friend became ill and ended up in the hospital, she didn’t have health insurance.

She was able to work with a charity that covered 100% of her medical bills.

When A Medical Bill Arrives A Year Later

This can be very frustrating. I received a medical bill a little over a year after I was out of the hospital. After calling to inquire about the bill, I was told the accounting department was reconciling their accountants and they forgot to issue me a medical bill.

I was very angry about this because time had passed, and I couldn’t understand the bill and why I owed anything extra. I felt if their billing department made a mistake, I shouldn’t have to pay.

I was able to successfully negotiate this bill and did not have to pay it. I was persistent, made a lot of phone calls and this worked out in my favor.

Have You Ever Had Any Kind of Unexpected Medical Bills? How Did You Pay Them?

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  1. Kristin, I love how practical this billing advice is. It’s always good to get help on how to pay for these things. It’s like you go to have a good strategy and battle plan to make sure that you don’t go broke in the process.

    1. Thanks Zequek. I’ve definitely learned about my options 🙂

  2. This is such a great post! I’m so sorry to hear about your health troubles and hope you are able to heal quickly and get this Seattle allergy under control.

    I had a similar situation recently when my physical therapist tried to double charge me for a session. Luckily, I questioned the amount due at the time of my visit, and when the clerk checked on it, it turned out billing had received my initial payment but had applied it to something other than the appointment. Sigh.

    Another tip that has really helped me: Never pay the full amount of the bill before your procedure. Hospitals usually try to convince you to pay the full amount or to make some kind of substantial payment. The first time I did this it turned out my insurance covered more than the hospital estimated they would, and I had to wait for a refund from the hospital that took 5 weeks to arrive. So now I always say I’d like to wait until they bill my insurance. They sometimes fuss about it, but I stand my ground. I’ve never had to wait around for a refund again. (And to prove my point, the amount the hospital tells me I’ll owe before the procedure has been more than I actually owed in almost every instance since then.)

    1. Ugh, that stinks about waiting for a refund. I was lucky (unlucky?!) that b/c it was an ER situation that I didn’t receive a bill for months. I do hold off on my paying my general practioner b/c the receptionist always tries to overcharge me and cannot figure out my insurance for some reason. So annoying!

  3. Great tips! It’s a horrible feeling to have problems with your health. And medical bills are so difficult to track. We’ve even received a bill or two (about a year after the listed date) for procedures we realized we never even had done, for something like blood work. We could have easily just paid without realizing their mistake. If we cannot recall for certain, we always check our records to verify if we actually had a visit on that date and if we already paid for it. Being organized definitely helps! I hope everything is going well for you now!

    1. Oh wow, I can’t even imagine getting a bill a year later, ouch! I didn’t even think about that that! That’s great you are so organized with everything!

  4. That is so scary! Both the health part, and the dealing with the health system part. I’ve been lucky enough not to have any major run-ins with the health care system; the last time I was seriously ill (with pneumonia) I didn’t have insurance, and used a sliding scale clinic, so I just paid them on the spot for the visit, then had to pay for medication out of pocket. But there was no inpatient stuff so none of the millions of bills that seem to arrive in people’s houses after a visit to the hospital these days.

    I hope this all gets sorted out soon for you, and I also hope I never have to do it (I want to be really healthy until I drop instantly dead of a heart attack at 85.) But I guess my plan is to do more or less what you are — be organized and aggressive, and have a savings account to draw on for emergencies.

    1. I know, I’ve always been lucky too with being healthy and it’s so crazy how things can change in an instant!

  5. Oh my gosh, that’s terrifying!!! I hope that you are doing okay now.
    Double billing sounds like a massive headache. Billing at all sounds like a massive headache when you ought to be working on being not-sick!

    1. Thanks Anne! Medical bills are the worst!

  6. Sorry to hear about the medical problems you’ve encountered since you moved. I haven’t had to deal with any outstanding medical bills yet but my bf has an he is on a payment plan. I agree that staying organized and comparing each bill is the best way to stay on top of things. That’s a shame that the billing department tried to double charge you and it sounds like they could use some of your organization advice as well.

    1. That’s great your bf is on a payment plan!

  7. Medical bills can be the pits! I was so worried about the multiple thousands of dollars I owed after a hospital visit, but after negotiating and talking to the hospital it ended up being really manageable. I definitely learned a lesson tho and save now for that type of expense!

    1. My payments haven’t been too crazy yet, just lots of little ones that are adding up. I am just bracing myself for some crazy bill to show up! Medical bills are such an odd thing to prepare for!

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