Unpaid medical bills are daunting, and while it would be easier for students to collect unopened invoices in a shoebox and hide them forever under the bed, it’s best to tackle them head-on.
This blog will help you help your international students manage unpaid medical bills in 4 straightforward steps.
Step One: Complete a Medical Release Form & Set Expectations Appropriately
Due to HIPPA laws in the United States, as an international advisor, you won’t be able to call and discuss any of your student’s medical bills or health history without their OK.
The hospital or doctor’s office will likely have a form that the student will need to complete in order to allow you to discuss their protected medical history. Help the student find the form (they’re usually located on the provider’s website) and let the student know that you’re here to help, but resolving unpaid bills will need to be a team effort.
There are a few different outcomes with any unpaid medical bills:
- Worst Case Scenario: The provider may not offer any reductions and will continue to charge the full amount due.
- Better Scenario: The total amount of the bills is reduced by at least a small percentage.
- Best Scenario: The bills are written off completely, meaning the student doesn’t owe a dime.
Step Two: Gather The Bills and Ensure They’re Correct
Before you’re able to help the student negotiate the bills it’s important that you can paint a full picture of what is owed and to whom. Encourage the student to provide you with a copy of each and every bill that they’ve received, along with copies of any documentation from the student’s insurance company stating why the bills weren’t covered. You’ll also want to ensure you have copies of each of the Explanation of Benefits (or EOBs for short) from the insurance company, showing why a bill was denied.
Once all of the documents are collected, take the time to review them in detail. The people that work in the billing department can make mistakes from time to time and those mistakes could mean duplicate charges. Ensure that the student was only billed for treatment that they received and only billed once for each service.
Step Three: Do Your Research
Now that the necessary form is on file for you to discuss the medical bills on behalf of your student, and you understand the total amount of the debt it’s time to do some research.
It’s common knowledge that providers grossly overcharge for services, so look online to compare how much the student was charged vs. what the average amount would be. Being able to confidently iterate to providers that you know they’re overcharging for services, if that is the case, can be helpful during your negotiation (that’s step 4).
Here are some examples:
- If your student was charged $100,000 for an appendectomy, but the national average is closer to $30,000 you can use this as ammunition during your conversation with the provider in the hopes that they’ll lower the overall amount of the debt.
- Hospitals can often charge hundreds of dollars for a pregnancy test,
It is also important to be able to accurately explain a student’s financial situation or inability to pay for the medical bills. Have a conversation with a student about what their home life looks like and what amount, if any, they’d be able to pay towards the medical bills each month.
Providers will oftentimes accept a lower amount than what was invoiced if the student is able to offer a lump sum payment. Be sure to inquire about this as well before calling the provider to negotiate the debt. See what amount, if any, the student and their family would be able to pay to get rid of the bills once and for all.
Step Four: Call the Provider(s)
Now you are ready for action! Gather all of the information that you’ve collected thus far and give the provider a ring. Just like at colleges or universities, most hospitals have a financial aid office – and it’s the job of the people that work there to help lower-income patients afford their medical treatment. Rather than calling the number on the bill, first look at the provider’s website to see if they have a financial aid office.
Here is everything that you’ll want to have available during the call:
- Each of the bills
- The dollar amounts that are normally charged for any given service and any errors that have been found within the bills
- The dollar amount that the student could afford to pay each month towards their debt.
- The lump-sum amount that the student is willing to pay the provider to get rid of the balance completely.
Sometimes providers will ask that a student writes what is called a Letter of Hardship to explain their financial situation and why their debts should be reduced or eliminated. If this is the case, take all of the documentation and information that has been collected and help the student write a letter asking the provider to kindly eliminate the debt. The more heartfelt and detailed the letter, the better!
Regardless if you and the student are able to have a conversation over the phone or if you have to write a letter, be sure to check back in with the provider 30 days or so down the road for the resolution. Don’t expect them to contact the student again – it’s now the student’s job to ensure that the provider is reviewing their request.