Bitter Medicine: How to Negotiate Your Medical Bills

Ryan Ong



Everything to do with medicine, short of saving your life, sucks. Taking pills? Injections? Getting cut open on a table? You’d think those would be the biggest price of not dying. But sadly, the pain and inconvenience are just the icing on a big poo cake. The medical bill is what will have you wishing you’d just died. Luckily, medical bills can be negotiated:

Medical bills are the most flexible fees you’ll ever rack up. The reason is it’s illegal for doctors to deny you medical care, even if you’re broke. Another reason is that, because life is fair, people who work in dangerous situations (welding, construction, teaching primary school) are least able to afford medical expenses. But they’re most likely to require them.

As such, hospitals are resigned to dealing with non-payment issues. So long as you’re really in a pinch, you can negotiate your medical bills with these simple steps.

Caveat: If you earn more than $150,000 a year, these won’t work ever for you. And also, I will help the doctor punch you in the face if you try.


Stall Credit Card Use


Signing credit card forms
Protip: Humour is the best medicine. Call the card company and ask about cashback on organs.


The first reflex that most people have is to pull out their credit card. While it may ultimately prove necessary, don’t rush it. Explain to the hospitals administration that such a debt could be debilitating to you. Most of them will give you extra time, which you can use to chase insurance companies or apply for aid programs.

Only use your credit card at the last possible moment. Many hospitals will allow you to make interest-free repayments; your credit company won’t.


Ask for a Discount

Many people don’t ask for a discount; either because it never occurs to them, or they find it embarrassing. Which is ridiculous, since they’ve already got you wearing a gown with your butt hanging out. After that, I wouldn’t be too think skinned to admit I’m poor.


Smiling patient
Brain surgery: Fix one side, get the other done free!


If you are in a low income group, it’s not unusual for hospitals to give discounts. You may find the cost of consultation waived, or they might decide to ignore that $90 X-ray. If you’re not at the hospital but at a General Clinic, this works even better. See the same doctor regularly, and pretty soon you won’t even have to ask.


Try to Use Medifund Accredited Hospitals

If your Medisave / Medishield and your insurance still aren’t sufficient, you might have recourse to Medifund.

If you need this sort of assistance, head to one of these Medifund accredited facilities. Be aware that Medifund is a matter of last resort; if you have even a a half decent income, then odds are you won’t qualify for it. But if you’re in dire straits, it’s worth a shot.


Offer Upfront Payment

Explain to the hospital administration that you can’t afford the total cost, but that you can offer a significant upfront payment. In the current economy, plenty of hospitals are happier to get some immediate payment, rather than chasing you for years over something you can’t repay anyway.


Paramedics with patient in an ambulance
“He hasn’t got enough upfront. I need an immediate wallet biopsy, right now!”


At the very least, they might offer interest-free instalments for an upfront deposit. Again, it’s still a better deal than going to the credit company.


Call Before Check-In if Possible

If you know you’re going for surgery (for sinus trouble, eye surgery, etc.) talk about the bill before checking in. Explain that your finances are about as healthy as you are right now, and you need financial help. This will allow you to check with various hospitals, and find one that’s most accommodating to your situation.


Man with sunglasses staring at his iPhone
“Where’s the bar code on my medicine? I want to compare price on LobangClub lah.”


Whatever you do, do not bargain by making price comparisons. As in, don’t barge in the door saying “Oh, but Hospital XYZ is charging $50 less, why can’t you?” You’re supposed to be asking for help, not discount shopping.

Hospitals negotiate on case-by-case basis. Medical conditions are complex, and very often, even doctors may not understand every costing issue. But just remember that, even if you may not get it, the possibility of a discount is huge. So the next time you’re a medical bill, don’t flash that credit card.

Image Credits:

Yuya Tamai
Lauren Nelson

Do you have questions about negotiating your medical bills? Comment and let us know!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.