During the Covid-19 pandemic, the greatest crisis of our generation, health care has been a priority for many Americans.
For one in six Americans who drowns in bills, reform cannot come soon enough. From riding in an ambulance to delivering a baby, families are regularly hit with thousands of dollars in medical expenses, even when they have health insurance.
In the new Biden administration, progressive politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders hope to finally push through a nationalized, universal, single-payer healthcare bill. But until some version of universal healthcare gets closer to a reality, hundreds of thousands of people will turn to an unlikely place for answers: TikTok.
Tori Dunlap is a 26-year-old self-proclaimed personal finance expert and the founder of HerFirst100k, a brand she claims is dedicated to providing financial education to women to fight patriarchy. Last year, his TikTok video explaining how to negotiate medical bills went viral and surpassed 100,000 likes.
In her video titled “Universal Health Care Please!” Dunlap explains that her medical bill, which she believed should have been covered by insurance, was not because it was not “coded” correctly as a preventive visit. This clerical error meant that Dunlap owed $ 268 for a routine gynecological appointment. She tapes herself negotiating the bill with the doctor’s office.
Dunlap, originally from Tacoma, Washington, works on building her brand full time in Seattle. Young people’s stories and questions about Dunlap’s advice flooded the comment section of his video. She credits her parents, her father a salesman, her mother a homemaker, for her financial education.
“My parents taught me how to save money, the potential dangers of credit cards, and how to invest,” Dunlap said. “I trade everything. My dad is the master negotiator. I watched my father grow up negotiating our cable bill, negotiating our car insurance, negotiating our phone bill. “
His videos come from personal experience. When Dunlap quit his corporate job to run his own business, his insurance changed, which meant that some of his doctor visits would not be covered by his insurance company. When they charged him hundreds of dollars, he tried to find another way.
“I asked him ‘Can you provide a single exception?'” Dunlap said. “They gave it to me after he called incessantly.”
To save time explaining what to say to medical billing departments, Dunlap maintains a free script on its website on how to negotiate common recurring bills.
“What you saw me do on that TikTok it’s a variation on that script. Be polite. Be friendly. Treat them with respect because they are people and they deserve it and we are more likely to get what we want if we are kind. “
Dunlap said the gynecologist appointment was not the first time she had received an outrageous medical bill. “In fact, it happened two other times,” Dunlap said. “They charged me $ 700 for a procedure that I hadn’t even had yet. He hadn’t even programmed it. “
Thousands of people may have viewed your TikToks, but even those in your own circle benefit. Dunlap’s friend, Kristine Ota, 34, received a $ 180 medical bill for a doctor visit. After watching her friend’s TikTok video, she decided to try and negotiate what she owed after visiting a liver specialist who was not covered by her insurance plan.
Ota called the billing department of the doctor’s office and asked for a discount for paying that same day. They gave him a 20% discount. “I always took [medical bills] verbatim, “said Ota. “Luckily, I had the money to pay for it. I think it encouraged me to try again. “
When hospital or doctor’s office bills are not paid, collection agencies can buy debt in bulk for pennies on the dollar. Shaunna Burns, a former debt collector and creator of Tik Tok, also uses her channel to share strategies for dealing with medical debt once it goes into collection. Some strategies include informing collection agencies if they call outside of business hours, requesting an itemized receipt, and requesting a “proof of claim” for the alleged debt.
In one of his TikTok videos, Burns explains that a debt held by a collection agency can expire after a certain amount of time, saying that sometimes he just “let the time run out.” But those statutes of limitations vary by state.
Christine Kingston, a California debt attorney, agrees with Burns’ strategy. “It’s called debt validation. Everyone has the right to ask for proof of the right to collect a debt before paying it. It is under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. “
For Burns and Dunlap, making these TikTok videos is about cutting out the complicated fine print and telling people in a 15- to 60-second format how to regain control of their medical debt and financial power.
Dunlap herself saved your first $ 100,000 in 2019, just a few years after graduating from the University of Portland. Soon after, she appeared on Good Morning America and left her desk job to become a full-time money educator. She remembered being the financial advisor many of her friends attended in college.
“I graduated from college in 2016. I reached adulthood and womanhood in Trump’s America. I realized how unequal and unequal our society is. And a lot has to do with money, “Dunlap said. “Financial education is our best form of protest as women. If we can start putting more money in the hands of more women, we can absolutely change the world. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism