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Unexpected medical bills are one of the most common financial setbacks a family can face, so you should have a plan in place to handle them should they occur. Of course, the best plan is to have a great health insurance plan, or money saved to pay the bills for which you could be responsible. Those options are not feasible for everyone, however. You can still use plenty of wise strategies to reduce the impact of a medical emergency.

Avoiding unnecessary treatments and expenses

The cost of medical treatment depends on what care you get and where. For example, if you have health insurance, you may be able to call a nurse’s hotline through your insurance company when you first notice non-emergency symptoms. The information you receive can dictate your next step, whether that be scheduling an appointment with your regular doctor, or heading to a clinic or a drugstore to have a prescription filled.

If you do need care right away, consider whether an urgent care facility would be adequate. The wait there is often about the same as any emergency where your condition does not warrant getting to the front of the emergency room line. If you do need to go to the emergency room, drive yourself unless you need immediate ambulance care.

Understanding insurance

The amount you'll have to pay for the medical care you receive depends on the type of medical insurance you have. If you have an HMO or PPO plan, you'll likely have a co-pay for each doctor or hospital visit. If you have a high-deductible plan, your insurance may not pay for anything until you have satisfied the annual deductible.

You also may have different costs depending on whether you use medical care providers within your insurance company's network. Therefore, it is important to know in advance what hospitals and facilities are part of the network. In some cases, you may even need to call for pre-authorization before getting care unless it is a true emergency.

Questioning your bills

When you receive your medical bills, don't assume you have to pay the full amount stated. Instead, take a look at the itemized bill to ensure it is accurate. If you received care in an emergency room, you might have seen several doctors and nurses, and perhaps had tests ordered, but not completed. Those could result in billing inaccuracies. If you have questions about any of the charges, call to ask about them. In addition, question anything you are getting billed for that you think is covered by your health insurance plan.

Working out payment plans

Once the bill is correct, it is time to figure out how to pay it. Hospitals and other medical facilities understand that most people cannot afford to pay a large bill all at once. As a result, they are typically willing to let you use a payment plan. Call the billing department to discuss the options, and make sure you understand whether there are any interest payments or fees for paying the bill in installments.

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