Negotiate with hospital administrators to pay less.

Study the Bill We have a tendency to assume that if a bill says we owe money, we need to pay that amount.

Do Your Research Know the price of a colonoscopy, emergency room visit, or operation you or a family member had before talking to a hospital administrator.

Pick Up the Phone Make sure you have your bill, insurance card, and other information handy.

Ask Open-Ended Questions When calling, ask about prices, says Alexandra Carter, director of Columbia Law School's Mediation Clinic. She wrote "10 Questions to Negotiate Anything" .

Discuss Your Options When you're broke, ask about alternatives to paying in full. You may have a plan for paying the bill, but there may be others.

Medical forgiveness is "When you're so poor you can't pay your medical bills. Verifiable hardships, such as a disability, may qualify for medical bill forgiveness."

Companies like Medgotiate and CoPatient negotiate medical bills for a cut of the savings, usually 20% to 30%.