This post was sparked by an event that took place the other day. I have an HSA (health savings account), and therefore I have to pay the full bill for any expenses I incur until I meet the deductible for the calendar year. Well I’m a fairly young and healthy guy (knock on wood) so usually when I get a bill from the doctor, I’m paying the full amount since I’m no where near my deductible.
As I discussed in Managing Your Float I tend to not rush to pay bills that have no consequences for paying late such as interest or late fees. This includes medical bills. I put paying these off for a couple of reasons. Mainly, I think the cost of health care is insane (in the United States at least) and I try to put off paying them while I can think of a way to reduce the bill.
Back in January I thought I had a sinus infection and went to the local walk-in clinic in Manhattan and they ended up billing me $215 for a 5 minute appointment! Well when I got the bill, I tucked it away and thought “this is outrageous, I’ll deal with it later.” Well I finally got around to the bill last week. I decided to negotiate how much they were charging me, because I’ve learned everything is negotiable. I called the number on the bill twice, but due to call volume my call was sent to voice mail. So then I shot them an email explaining how I didn’t think the $215 bill was the fair value of the care I received. I described how I felt I waited too long in the waiting room and how they didn’t answer the phone the two times I called them during normal business operating hours. I received a response within 24 hours which said they were working on my request, and within 48 hours I received the following email:
Thank you for contacting the billing department. I apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused you. I have reviewed your account. Based on the information that was provided to me, I have reduced your balance down to $125.00. I hope that you find this reduction satisfactory. Should you need further assistance, please contact the billing department at XXX-XXX-XXXX. Our hours of operations are Monday-Friday from 9:00AM to 5:00PM.
SHABOOM! Factoring in the two calls I made at about two minutes each, plus the three minutes it took me to draft my email, I saved $90 for seven minutes of work. I’d trade my seven minutes for $90 any day of the week.
Anything is negotiable when it comes down to it, especially if you feel it was not worth what you are being charged for it. Below is a list of examples of things I’ve negotiated over the years successfully:
- Medical bills – see above
- Cell phone – Luckily my work now pays for my cell phone bill, but in the past I’ve called with success. I’ve just asked for current deals they are running and if they can help me lower my bill. Usually they oblige as they don’t want to lose you as a customer. Never hurts to threaten to move to another carrier as well.
- Cable / Internet – I usually call my cable and internet provider every six months or so to see if they have any new deals. This usually lowers my bill a little bit, and then you’re never blindly rolled into a standard contract where the rates are outrageous once the promotional rate ends. Like with the cell phone bill, saying “I’m not really happy with the service I’ve been receiving and have contemplated switching to XYZ” never hurts.
- Satellite radio – I used to have satellite radio in my car when I had one. The base price that XM would bill me was pretty high. But every six months or so I’d call and threaten to cancel and they’d cut my bill in half after a 10 minute or so phone call.
- Used cars – When I purchased a used car after college, I mentioned that CarMax had a better deal when I was there earlier in the day. As soon as I said that the used car salesman said “we’ll never lose a sale to them, how’s $1,500 off sound?”
- Salary / Sign-on bonus – These are always negotiable, especially if you convey that you are qualified and would be a great asset to the organization.
- Gym membership – I offered to prepay for 12 months and got an additional 6 months free for doing this.
- Flights – This one can be done after the fact, but if you get delayed or your flight gets canceled, and you email the airline explaining how their delays or cancellations messed up your trip, they might give you a credit towards your next flight. This is not a 100% effective as it depends a lot on the reason for the cancellation or delay. I recently just used a $75 credit from United that I got from doing this.
- Items and services in foreign countries – I went to Mexico quite a few years back on vacation and we negotiated everything from cab rides to cigars. In the touristy area the local businessmen tried to take advantage of our ignorance and charge us $20 for a $5 cab ride, or $80 for a box of cigars that should retail for $20. We learned quick not to let them take advantage of us (I’m sure this happens to foreigners in other countries as well, including the United States).
What have you negotiated? Anything out of the ordinary?