Managing Medical Bills
Seeing medical bills trickling into your mailbox can feel pretty scary. Unlike other services where you know the costs upfront, doctors don't usually give estimates. And how many of us have the time to ask for pricing in advance when our health is at stake?
If you find yourself in a sea of medical bills and don't know where to start sorting through them all, here are five steps to help you get a handle on your medical bills.
1. Make Sure the Bills Are Correct
Medical billing isn't perfect, so it's entirely possible that there are mistakes on your bills. Make sure that your bills are accurate by requesting itemized bills from your insurance company or medical provider. If you spot something that looks funny, call and ask about it. A disputed medical bill is typically flagged for audit, which should extend its due date while the provider figures out if there's been a mistake.
2. Sort Bills by Due Date
Sort the bills by due date to make sure you have enough money to cover what you owe. It may be tempting to pay lower bills first, but if you have a bill of $200 due on the 30th of this month, and another smaller bill of $50 due on the 15th of next month, you should pay $200 to avoid additional fees or interest charges. By the time the $50 is due, you'll have completed another paycheck cycle.
3. Use Your Flexible Spending or Health Savings Accounts
Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) or a Health Savings Accounts (HSA) can help you set aside money for medical expenses and avoid taking on debt to pay medical bills. Deposits to FSAs and HSAs are made automatically from each paycheck and sent to a tax-free account that you can use for medical expenses. You earned this money, so don't forget to use it when you need it most.
4. Set Up a Payment Plan
If you're like many people, it's just not possible to pay off a large bill all at once. Once you determine how much you actually owe, the next step is to figure out how much you can pay, either on a monthly or per-paycheck basis. Then, call the medical billing department, tell them what you can afford to pay, and ask to set up a payment plan. This is also a good time to ask if they have any financial assistance programs. Their priority is to get that bill paid, so as long as you communicate with them honestly, they may be willing to work with you to figure out a repayment plan.
5. Deduct Medical Costs on Your Tax Return
According to the IRS, any medical costs that equal more than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI) are deductible if you itemize your tax deductions. Your AGI is the income remaining after all of your deductions are taken out. So if, for example, $4,000 is 10 percent of your AGI, and you are eligible to itemize deductions, then any amount you paid above that is deductible.
Medical bills can feel overwhelming, but they are something that everyone has to deal with at one time or another. If you take a deep breath, get organized, and make a sound plan, the cost of medical care won't derail your finances.