Medical debt can have serious consequences, no matter your age. But in retirement, it can be particularly significant, especially if a surviving spouse is responsible for lingering debts from a complicated illness or disability. Minimizing your costs is the first step to avoid medical debt.
- Work with your insurer(s) to fully understand your costs of coverage, coverage limits, premium increase history, benefits coordination and available riders. Riders on life insurance policies may be available to use for medical costs (although the final payout will be reduced).
- If you use Medicare and find yourself in a hospital, ascertain your admission status. If you are being “observed,” you are considered an outpatient. Medicare Part B will cover most of your services (you will have a copay and deductible), but it will not cover prescription drugs that you normally take at home. You can read more about this topic in this publication from Medicare.
- Use in-home care options whenever possible. Either professionals coming into your home or family/friends are usually cheaper, especially to cover an elimination period before a long-term care policy starts. Discuss this option before you need it, though; there are issues of privacy, loss of income and isolation to address.
- Review your bills and explanations of benefits (EOB) for errors. Mistakes are made – especially within the billing codes. Make sure your bill accurately reflects your treatment(s) and what has been already paid. Likewise, check with your insurer if something is not paid and you think it is an error.
- Before bills become past due, work with the provider to ask for waived copays or payment plans.
- Work with a patient advocate. Many hospitals have patient advocates who can help you through negotiations of your medical bills from the facility.
- Work with a professional medical billing advocate to negotiate and help you avoid long-term consequences of draining your savings or filing for bankruptcy. Such services come at a price, so you will want to try everything you can first.
Most importantly, make sure you get any responses or agreements in writing.