Pay Bill In Full Right Now, Score A Hospital Discount

Phil Villarreal, a familiar face to Consumerist readers, recently welcomed a new baby into his family. Almost as exciting to him as the creation of new life and the addition to his adorable brood was the opportunity to play hardball with the hospital regarding the bill. He had to pay a substantial part of it, see, but had a proposition for the hospital. If he paid it all right that very moment in full, he knew that he would get a discount. Only navigating the hospital’s administrative structure stood in his way.

He blogged of his victory, but unfortunately included no baby pictures:

It sucks to get a colossal hospital bill, but it’s almost worth the pain (almost) for the chance to take advantage of the secret-handshake discount program operated by seemingly all medical billing offices. All you have to do is ask for a discount in exchange for paying the remaining amount in full upfront, and your bill will be magically shrink. Hospitals and doctors do this to grab your cash while they can out of fear that you’ll ignore the bill and stiff them.

But the enemy is doing what it can to make things tougher on patients looking to slash their medical bills.

My son, Zack, was born three weeks ago, and the hospital sent me a bill yesterday. I found it odd that the bill’s contact number had an (800) prefix, but still thought I wouldn’t have too much trouble getting a discount like I did three years ago when Emma was born.

How wrong I was.

Not only did the first guy I spoke to turn me down, but so did his supervisor. They insisted the hospital didn’t offer such a discount and never had. After I presented evidence to the contrary the supervisor admitted her operation was nothing more than a call center contracted out by the hospital. She recommended I call the mothership.

Once I did that — having to look up the number myself, because the call center didn’t have it and couldn’t or wouldn’t transfer me — I got a 20 percent discount nice and easy. It’s sad that those who don’t have the perseverance to play billing office whack-a-mole will have to pay full price.

The lesson here, folks, is to never take “no” from an agency that lacks the power to make things right for you.

The inherent flaw in this plan, of course, is that anyone who desperately needs that discount certainly doesn’t have the cash on hand to pay the bill right now, and using a credit card kind of defeats the point.

UPDATE: Phil wanted to clarify to readers that he does indeed have insurance: it’s the pesky deductible and coinsurance that he was paying.

Just wanted to say that I have insurance and was just negotiating the portion billed to me I owed to meet my deductible and pay co-insurance. Both insured and uninsured patients can get the prepayment discount.