May 17, 2024 6:05 pm

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Medical Bills: Understanding Them and Patient Rights Can Save You Big

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Among consumers with medical debt, 16% of Black adults report a disproportionate amount of such debt, compared to 9% of white adults, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. (Adobe Stock)
Among consumers with medical debt, 16% of Black adults report a disproportionate amount of such debt, compared to 9% of white adults, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. (Adobe Stock)

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 Alex Gonzalez, Producer

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Thursday, August 31, 2023   

Medical care is expensive and continues to get more costly. Many people in Arizona only become aware of this after they get a bill for their care.

According to the Arizona Public Interest Research Group Education Fund one in 10 adults in the U.S. carry medical debt, including nearly 11 million people who owe more than $2,000.

Patricia Kelmar, health care director for the group, said whether you have insurance or not, medical bills can quickly become a financial headache. It is why she helped create a medical guide to help navigate medical bills and know your patient rights to avoid unnecessary charges.

“Bills come in dribs and drabs and it is hard to keep track of what you owe and what you don’t owe,” Kelmar observed. “Particularly in a situation where you might have been hospitalized for a week or a few days, ask for an itemized list of all the services that you got with the prices.”

Kelmar noted regular people are putting your bill together, and there is a good chance billing mistakes are being made. She encouraged people not to assume your bill is accurate. She added hospitals are required to now post the prices of their top 300 most “shoppable services,” which means knowing their cash or insurer prices can help you negotiate your bill down.

Under the No Surprises Act, those who are not insured have the right to ask for what Kelmar called a good-faith estimate for the needed care. She encouraged everyone to hold on to the estimate because if your final bill’s total is $400 or more over the initial estimate, you can hold the provider accountable.

If you do have health insurance, Kelmar advised the most important thing you can do is use an in-network doctor or hospital to keep out-of-pocket costs down. The No Surprises Act protects you from “surprise medical bills” when you receive emergency care in an out-of-network emergency room, but not an urgent care center. 

“One important thing to do in advance for emergency situations is to understand where your in-network urgent care center is, even when you go on vacation,” Kelmar recommended. “‘Where can I go where I can be in-network and get the treatment that I need?'”

Kelmar also warned Arizonans about credit cards being offered in medical settings. She pointed out they often promise zero interest for a number of months, but will then charge much higher interest than a regular credit card, up to 30%.

She emphasized unless you’re sure you can pay off the debt in the short time allotted, she does not recommend taking the offer. 

Disclosure: The Arizona Public Interest Research Group Education Fund contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Consumer Issues, Energy Policy, and Urban Planning/Transportation. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.