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‘An Arm and a Leg’: How to Negotiate for Lower Medical Bills

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Negotiating medical bills is often possible. It sounds hard — and it can be — but what if we got it down to a science? Mapped out all the moves ahead of time? Jared Walker and his team at the nonprofit Dollar For are running a big experiment to see whether they can do just that.  

The folks at Dollar For went superviral on TikTok in early 2021 with a 60-second recipe for crushing medical debt by accessing charity care, financial assistance that most U.S. hospitals are legally required to offer.

Next, a group of whip-smart volunteers helped Dollar For develop a user-friendly system to help people apply for that assistance. Dollar For also started holding lessons on Zoom, teaching people the ins and outs of applying for charity care — and helping others to do so. The group says its work has helped erase more than $18 million in medical debt. 

But lots of people who can’t afford their medical bills don’t qualify for charity care. So Dollar For is trying something new: what they’re calling a “negotiation lab” for gaming out the best way to negotiate with hospitals and debt collectors. 

In this episode, we listen in on one of Dollar For’s real-life negotiations with a debt collector. 

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of KHN and Public Road Productions.

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KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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