Negotiating can cut hundreds off your medical bills

Mike Sholar was charged more than $1,000 for an ambulance ride.

It's not a good feeling to open up your medical bills and see the cost is not what you expected - more often than not, it's high. But did you know that you can negotiate what you pay?

"My cab ride was $8.42," said Mike Sholar.

But Sholar's ride to the hospital cost a lot more. His story begins in his backyard.

"I caught myself jumping over that fence and slipped and cut, that I guess there was some sharp stuff here, over the corner of that fence and I ripped my little pants in the back," he said.

Mike got a big gash in his buttocks.

"It was that big. So when I looked, I was, like, 'I gotta go to the hospital'," he said.

He called Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services and within minutes, they were on the scene.

"I was kind of worried about the price and she said all they got to do is look at it and see if you need to go. I said there will be no problem with that. As soon as they get in the door, they said you need to go. And I said okay, how much is this going to cost me? And they said, we don't know," Sholar recalled.

Retracing the route Sholar says the ambulance took from his near east side home to Wishard Hospital took only six-and-a-half minutes.

"An ambulance ride from here to there. What? A hundred bucks, I can give you. I can go even two. I'll even go with the $400 you charged me 20 years ago," Sholar said.

But when he got his bill?

"The ambulance bill came real quick," he said. "Two days later."

The transport ride was $1,230. He was charged another $100 for mileage.

"I didn't need IVs, I didn't need blood pressure, I didn't need all that. Folks who need that, I know there's a charge, but I got a Band-Aid for $1,300. It's just gouging the public," Sholar said.

Eyewitness News contacted major ambulance companies and hospitals across central Indiana to see how the price is determined. No one would go on camera, but we were told rates are increasing, just like other health care costs.

"Come on with the jokes, Mr. Company. What are you doing? That's taking advantage of people," Sholar said.

But you can fight back against skyrocketing medical costs.

"I've heard discounts up in the area of 30 percent sometimes, which can be pretty significant," said Cathryn Perron, director of program development with Consumer Credit Counseling.

She says it's possible to negotiate down your medical bills - everything from ambulance rides to surgery. She says you can also bargain with your dentist, the lab that does your blood tests, the eye doctor - even the company that makes you prescription medication.

"Each company has a specific number you can call to fill out an application and many times, you'll get a discount, or you'll get the product free through the drug companies, if you qualify financially," Perron said.

All you have to do, with or without insurance, is make a call. Each case is handled differently. In most cases, everyone wants to pay the bill, but they're afraid to contact their doctor or hospital. They'll work with you to make sure the cost is paid.

So how do you pay less?

There are a number of options:

Offer to pay in cash - You may get an up-front discount of 10 percent or more.

Ask about a payment plan - They're usually interest-free and determined by your budget.

If you don't have insurance - Some hospitals will give you a discount that is equal to what it may have given the insurance company.

Charity care - Bills are forgiven, based on your income and expenses, but you'll have to fill out hardship paperwork.

"You'll most likely have to provide proof of income, they'll ask about your monthly living expenses and your other bills that you have to pay every month," said Perron.

Sholar called Indianapolis EMS.

"He says, 'Sir, you got to pay for the ambulance, all the stuff in the ambulance, the two people who drive the ambulance. That's just the way it is'," he said.

But he didn't give up.

"This bill says $1,300. She said, 'Yeah, that sounds about right.' I said, 'Let me talk to a supervisor'," Sholar said. "The supervisor's name is John. John wasn't too happy."

Mike put on the pressure and the bill was reduced by $532. The wounds to his buttocks are healed, but the other injury he got that night, on his thumb, is a constant reminder of the cost of healthcare.

"I don't need no X-rays, I don't need no other stuff. Just give me the stitches and I still haven't received a bill for that," he said.

But he's ready to negotiate and he says, in the future, he'll also weigh the costs before calling 911.

"I would have put a rag over it and got a ride here," he said.

Tips to Negotiate Your Medical Costs

Consumer Credit Counseling and Apprisen offer tips to get your medical bills reduced:

First and foremost be informed. Understand what type of medical insurance coverage you have and what your co-pays or financial responsibilities are. Some insurance companies have contracts with certain medical providers to offer a discount if you receive treatment from a "preferred provider." We encourage individuals to meet with their Human Resource department or contact their insurance company to speak with a representative about their coverage and benefits prior to receiving medical treatment.    This could reduce your financial responsibility significantly.

Apprisen recommends for you to review your itemized statement from your medical provider. If you feel there are discrepancies or charges in question, contact your medical provider to meet with their Patient Account Specialist to discuss your questions or discrepancies. Communication is a vital part of resolving your issues. Simply ignoring communication from your medical provider will not resolve the issue and could potentially lead to a negative impact on your credit rating if resolution is not reached.

Whether you have insurance or not, you are encouraged to contact your medical provider prior to treatment (if possible) to discuss costs associated with your treatment and to work out the possibility of negotiating those costs down. Many medical providers will consider giving discounts to individuals who are willing to pay  the balance in full upon services rendered or within a short period of time after receiving treatment. If you find yourself in a position where you are not able to pay the balance in full, consider negotiating with your medical provider for a monthly repayment plan interest free. You are encourage to analyze your personal budget to insure you are able to make the financial commitment to your medical provider. Negotiating your medical bill then failing to follow through with the financial payment arrangement could negate your hard effort to reduce your medical bill.

If you are uninsured, you are encouraged to meet with a Patient Account Specialist or a "decision maker" to see if you qualify for any financial hardship programs. Most hardship programs require you to provide evidence of your financial situation and the award is based on financial need. Be prepared to give a full budget disclosure in order to be considered for the hardship program.

Apprisen's mission is "To help people improve their financial well-being through counseling, community outreach and financial education."

You can call Apprisen at 1-800-355-2227 or visit

There are also companies who claim they have a network of physicians throughout the state who offer medical services for 50 percent off or more. You can find out more about those companies at