Why it Pays to Negotiate your Medical Bills

70 percent of patients who try to reduce costs find success, expert says

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    NEWSLETTERS

    You do it all the time with just about every other major purchase, so why not your healthcare? We're talking about negotiating down your out of pocket medical bills. (Published Wednesday, Sep 22, 2010)

    The cost of health care can sometimes send people from the doctor's office to the poorhouse, but experts say big money can be saved with just a little planning and some negotiation skills.

    "The number one tip is to ask," said Melissa Turner, a medical billing specialist from Mainstream Services in South Holland.

    In fact, various surveys by health and consumer groups show that only 20 to 30 percent of patients bother to ask to reduce their out-of-pocket medical bills, but up to 70 percent of those who try actually find success.

    "I think people are finding help with at least 40 percent of their bill," she said.  That's a big number to cut off the top, whether or not you have insurance.

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    And a recent survey by Angies List shows physicians seem to be the most willing to negotiate.

    About 40 percent percent of successful patients say they have negotiated with their doctors, 31 percent were able to haggle with hospitals, and 18 percent could talk down their dentists. Here’s how:

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    • Be Pro-active: Discuss it with the billing office before the appointment.  Strikes the deal, then check-in.  Most providers actually have financial plans on file.
    • Educate Yourself: Healthcare Blue Book is a good place to start. You can also search government databases for Medicare costs as a starting point to negotiate. And if uninsured, ask for the same price insurance companies get.
    • Be Reasonable and Honest: Let doctors know your financial situation and they may be more willing to help, especially in these economic times. They do take hardship into account. Plus, it costs providers money to go into debt collection and it's a hassle and expense they would rather avoid.
    • Bargain with Labs: Survey the prices of local providers and ask your doctor, if possible, to use the lab of your choice at the price you negotiated.
    • Get the Negotiated Amount in Writing: You need to cover yourself in case there are staffing changes.
    • The magic of cash: offer it at the time the service is provided and you could see a 20 percent reduction because there’s no billing, check or credit fees.

    "Regardless of income you have to be wise with your healthcare dollar today," said Turner.

    In worst case scenarios, you may qualify for Charity Care.  But you will have to show the hospital proof of your income and your hardship.

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