I’m happy to introduce “Funny Money”, a new column offering irreverent but otherwise solid financial advice written by author and newspaperman Phil Villarreal. Weclome, Phil. –DW.
You may think you’re doing OK financially, but most people are a medical emergency away from having to turn tricks for coke.
What? I was referring to having to take up a side job as a street musician in order to keep up with your soda-a-day habit. Get your mind out of the gutter.
Fact is, the insatiable maw of medical costs are the leading cause of bankruptcy. Once you’re released from the hospital, thinking you’ve recovered enough to function in society once again, along come a flood of bills that make you feel even sicker.
The hospital, attending physician, anesthesiologist and even the hospitalist — which I’m pretty sure isn’t even a real profession and just something they made up on the fly — are all begging you for whatever money the insurance company won’t cough up.
The bad news is that you have to either pay them all or funnel the money you would have used to pay your bills to pay the shady dude on the corner to make up a new identity for you. The good news is there’s an easy way to cut those bills without giving into frustration and pulling out a pair of scissors.
Hospitals see you as that broke ex-roommate who stopped paying his share of the rent seven months ago but still hasn’t gotten around to moving out. They’re burned so often that they don’t expect you’ll ever pay up, so they’re grateful to accept whatever dirty cash you’re willing to cough up before you speed off into the sunset.
The not-so-secret secret hospital discount
Nearly every medical billing office is willing to settle your account with a 25 percent discount in exchange for upfront payment, and all you have to do is ask for it. The tactic gave me such a sizable discount on my first two kids that I was able to afford a third, albeit on layaway.
The negotiation process is so stupidly easy, it can hardly even be called a negotiation. You just call up the office, ask them what the discount is for immediate payment and then read them your credit card number. Most billing clerks are so used to the drill that they’ll work with you instantly. Other times, they may just have to pull a supervisor aside to get the job done.
I enjoy getting the discount so much that it’s unhealthy. Like, I’m practically looking for excuses to go out and break my arm, just for the opportunity to high-five my numb, cast-covered arm out of the giddy pleasure of getting the hospital to knock $250 off my $1,000 bill.
One last thing
Some billing offices do what they can to steer you away from shaking down a live person for an easy discount. They’ll bill you by email and coax you into paying up online, where you won’t get the chance to talk down, or stick you with an (800) number to a third-party billing service that refuses to negotiate. Ignore these shenanigans and call the hospital or doctor directly to make sure you’re not railroaded.
So save on your medical bills and you may just be able to postpone the need to turn tricks. Or resort to prostitution, even.