Negotiating Medical Bills After Death: Complete Guide

Navigating medical bills can be a complex process. However, it can be even more complicated following the death of a loved one. You may question who pays hospital bills after death. The reality is that hospital bills after death pass to the deceased person’s estate and, in many cases, to their family. 

Coping with the death of a loved one is difficult enough without worrying about tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt. However, hospital bills won’t simply disappear, and many people are overwhelmed by the first steps of managing them. Let’s take a closer look at understanding medical debt after death and how you can negotiate medical bills.

Understanding How Medical Bills Work After Death 

When someone passes away with unpaid medical bills, the bills become medical debt after the due date. Unfortunately, those debts are not automatically forgiven. About 1% of adults owe more than $10,000, representing most of the medical debt in the US. It is typically assumed that medical debt is paid with the financial resources left behind. In addition to being expensive, medical bills can be confusing, might be from different providers, and may even conflict with one another. However, they may support negotiating the debt and lowering the bottom line. 

Who Pays for Medical Bills After Death? 

paying medical bills

It is important to understand the chain of responsibility regarding paying hospital bills after death. 

The person’s estate pays the bills

The most likely scenario is that the deceased person’s estate pays their bills. For example, if someone passes away with $50,000 in medical debt and has $100,000 of assets, the debt would be paid from those resources. Ideally after a death creditors are notified and make claims on the estate.

However, if the situation is reversed and the deceased has more debt than they do assets, they have an insolvent estate, and one of two things will happen. 

The person’s debts get written off 

In many cases, the creditors you owe the debt will write it off and cancel it. However, this is only sometimes the case, especially when you owe them a great deal of money. 

The person’s descendants may be responsible for the medical debt in rare cases

If the creditors aren’t willing to write off the debt, they may try to collect from the family, but most likely would not have legal recourse to do so. Your best approach is to consult with an Estate Attorney that would know the intricacies involved with such matters.  Following situations may further complicate responsibility 

  • You cosigned the medical bills 
  • You live in a state with filial laws requiring you to pay medical care of their parents, particularly ALF and Nursing Home associated debts  
  • You live in a state with community property laws and you’re the surviving spouse

Remember that inheritances typically are only paid out once the medical debt is resolved if there are no alternate arrangements such as deeds listing people as “tenants in entirety” or a living trust. The outcome could mean that beneficiaries get less than what you intended.

3 Things You Should Consider Before Negotiating a Medical Bill 

If you face negotiating medical bills for a deceased loved one that you’re responsible for, there are some things to keep in mind. 

1. Find Out Who is Sending you the Bill 

Sometimes, you’ll owe unpaid medical debt directly to the medical providers caring for your loved one. In other cases, however, you’ll owe money to third-party collection companies. This happens when medical providers outsource their collections to a third-party company that specializes in medical collections. Therefore, you must find out exactly to whom you owe and how much. 

2. Seek Assistance From Hospital and Government Resources 

Once you know to whom you owe, you should look into hospital and government resources for financial assistance. You should start by checking with your insurance company. You should also look into charities and medical foundations. 

If none of the above is an option, you should turn to the Patient Advocate Foundation and similar organizations. While the Patient Advocate Foundation doesn’t help everyone who petitions, they boast a full medical debt write-off for those they help. 

3. Work Out Your Payment Plan and Discount Rates

Finally, you can work out a payment program with the hospital or a third-party debt collector. If you’re savvy enough, you can work out a plan where you pay less than what you owe. You can also postpone payments on other bills, such as student loans or government debts, while you work on medical debts. 

How to Negotiate Lowering Medical Bills After Death

Once you get your ducks in a row, it’s time to start negotiating for a lower medical bill. There are several things you can do to accomplish this. 

Request an Itemized Bill and Check for Errors 

Hospitals and medical providers must give you an itemized bill if you request one. Proper documentation means that you know exactly what you’re paying. You can also check the bill for errors, overcharges, or duplicate charges. 

Politely Ask to Lower Your Rates 

Next, you can start by politely asking to lower your rates. Keep in mind medical providers aren’t required to lower your rates just because you ask them. If politely asking doesn’t work, you can try filing a grievance. The key to filing a successful grievance is persistence because you likely won’t win the first time. 

A Real Example

Take the case of Shannon Harness, a former marine who owed $85,000 in medical expenses. Harness filed several grievances and complaints to lower his hospital bills after asking didn’t work out. 

In November, he was given a 30% discount for both surgeries, reducing the cost to $56,152.40. Then, after several more grievances, complaints, and negotiations, he came away with a final bill of just over $19,000. That’s over $65,000 less than he originally owed, and it’s all because of persistence, grievances, and negotiations. 

Know if You Are Eligible for Lower Health Care Costs

You can also utilize healthcare cost comparison sites. Healthcare cost comparison sites show you how much surgeries, medications, and procedures cost elsewhere versus what you’re paying. Some medical providers will price match if you can find lower rates elsewhere. 

Receive an Insurance Rate Instead 

Typically, uninsured people get charged higher rates than those affiliated with an insurance company. If your late loved one didn’t have insurance and is getting charged at the uninsured rate, you could negotiate for the insurance rate. You can find your insurance rate at Healthcare Bluebook and use it to secure a lower payment plan. 

Negotiate for Payment Options 

Finally, you can negotiate repayment options or form a payment plan. Medical bills are like any other bills in that you can pay them back over a long period of time. A good payment plan can ease the financial strain of using a significant portion of your savings to repay a medical bill immediately. You can also ask for a contractual adjustment to reduce the overall bill. 

How Health Advocates Can Assist in Medical Billing Negotiations 

If your head is spinning at using negotiation tactics, looking for medical errors, and filing grievances, you’re not alone.

Health advocate consultants exist primarily because of the complexities of medical billing negotiations and all they entail.

If you’re facing massive medical debts after losing a loved one, you should consider contacting a health advocate for assistance. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Medical Bills After Death 

Who Should I Contact When I Need a Health Advocate? 

There is much to consider when it comes to unpaid medical bills after death. It’s important to plan for medical billing complications in life, but it’s even more important to plan for them in death. The debt of your loved one won’t disappear simply because they have passed away, and the debt might fall on you. If you’re facing medical bills after the death of a loved one, you should contact us at Amazing Healthcare Consultants for assistance.