It could be one of your worst nightmares: you’re involved in a major car crash that lands you in the hospital for an extended period – perhaps in a coma connected to a respirator. Thinking about Medicare billing may be the last thing on your mind, but if you’re physically or mentally incapacitated, you may not be able to pay your bills.

Here are some steps that may help you handle your Medicare bills if you’re in the hospital, including the type of legal authorization you need to have someone handle your bills for you, and how missed payments may affect your coverage.

Paying Medicare bills through a durable power of attorney

It may seem like a simple solution to have a family member or friend pay for your Medicare bills while you’re in the hospital, or consult with your doctor about medical decisions about you. However, your loved ones might not be authorized to act on your behalf. You might want to consider giving power of attorney to a loved one in case you’re ever unable to make medical or financial decisions for yourself.

Keeping detailed records of your Medicare bills

It may be a good idea to keep a detailed list of all of your Medicare bills, such as monthly payments such as premiums, in the event that something happens and you need someone else to step in and help manage your finances.

Keep a regularly updated list of your Medicare billing information in one place so that you can easily hand it off to your hand it off to the person you chose to represent you via power of attorney if needed. You might want to include:

  • Contact information for insurance companies, doctors, specialists, suppliers: basically, anyone who might send you a Medicare bill
  • Invoices, receipts, or outstanding bills
  • Online account information: if you pay for your bills online, have your username and password information available in a secure place.

Setting up automatic payments for Medicare billing

You might like paying your Medicare bills by mail, but paying electronically may be easier if you’re in the hospital. If you have access to a mobile phone or tablet, you may be able to pay your bill from your hospital bed instead of having someone go to your house to locate your checkbook for you. Paying for Medicare bills online makes it less likely a check will get lost in the mail or be late.

Be sure to keep paying your Medicare premiums while you’re in the hospital or you could lose your Medicare coverage. If you’re currently receiving Social Security retirement benefits, your Part B premium (and your Part A premium, if you pay one) will usually be automatically deducted from your Social Security check. Otherwise, you’re typically billed every three months.

You might want to take advantage of Medicare Easy Pay, which may let you set up automatic payments.

Of course, premiums aren’t the only type of Medicare bill. Even after Medicare pays its share, you may have cost-sharing expenses like deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance, and you may get a separate bill if you’re not asked to pay at the time you receive the service.

What happens if a Medicare bill is late

Sometimes, even with the best-laid plans, you may miss a Medicare bill while you’re in the hospital. So, what happens then?

The way Medicare billing works for premiums is this: If you stop paying your Part A and/or Part B premiums, you may lose your coverage. You’re billed quarterly for Medicare premiums, so if you’ve just paid for your premium and wind up in the hospital, you’ll have three months before your next payment is due. If you get a bill for your Medicare premium and don’t pay it by the 25th of that month, you’ll get a second bill the next month. If you don’t pay the second Medicare bill by the 25th of that month, you’ll be sent a third, “delinquent bill.” If you still fail to pay, your coverage may be canceled. If you’re still in the hospital after this grace period has ended, you may have to pay for services out of pocket.

Medicare billing and Medicare health plans

Another category of Medicare billing is the bills you get from your Medicare health or prescription drug plans, if these apply to you.

When it comes to Medicare bills like copayments or coinsurance, each provider may have a different policy. Some may offer a grace period, which will vary, but you may have to pay an extra fee if your payment is late. In some cases, the provider may refer you to a collection agency after a certain period. It may be wise to make sure you know your plan’s Medicare billing policy.

To play it safe and avoid missed or late Medicare bills – or losing your coverage entirely – you may want to take precautions related to Medicare billing: set up automatic payments or make sure you have durable power of attorney in place in case you’re in the hospital and unable to handle your Medicare billing yourself.

This article is only for general information and is not tax or legal advice.  Consult your tax or legal advisor for guidance.