10 Smart (and easy) Ways to Slash Your Medical Bills

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Medical bills can pile up quickly, leaving you trapped under a mountain of debt. These 10 tips can whittle that mountain down to a molehill. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t try.

 

Shop around to save.

Before you have any surgeries, tests, or procedures, get a list of all possible fees in writing. Make sure you include everything and everyone, from the anesthesiologist to the doctor. Then comparison shop. Use websites like Healthcare Bluebook (healthcarebluebook.com) and New Choice Health (newchoicehealth.com) to find prices in your area for the medical care you need.

Here’s a real eye-opener. Suppose you need knee repair surgery, and you live in a small, midwestern city. If you have the procedure at an outpatient center, you could pay as little as $2,100. Choose a hospital instead, and your total bill could skyrocket to a whopping $14,400.

 

Keep your eyes peeled for errors.

Scrutinize those bills. According to the Medical Billing Advocates of America, more than 80 percent of medical bills contain mistakes. Be sure to ask for an itemized bill so you can verify all your charges. Keep an up-to-date file of the paperwork you receive. That way if you end up disputing a charge, you’ll have all the records you need right at your fingertips.

 

Be a CPT code cracker.

Find out the current procedural terminology (CPT) code for your tests or surgery. Knowing the code will make it easier to compare prices, and you’ll be better prepared to make sense of your bills once they start rolling in. Ask your doctor’s staff for help, or conduct your own search at icd10data.com.

 

Ask for the Medicare rate (even if you’re not a senior).

Medicare pays doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers the lowest fees. You can request the same rate for yourself. Even if they say no, you can still use those numbers to negotiate your way to a lower medical bill.

According to a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, only 31 percent of Americans have ever tried to lower their medical bills. The great thing is, most of them were successful, with more than a third saving over $100 on their bill.

 

Make sure your insurance pays its part. 

Sometimes it doesn’t. If the insurance company denies your claim, you are entitled to receive an explanation in writing. If you disagree with their decision, you have six months to appeal.

To get help with your insurance claim, contact the Consumer Assistance Program in your state at cms.gov or call the Health Insurance Assistance Team of the U.S. Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at 888-393-2789.

 

Settle up with cold, hard cash.

If you can afford it, offer to pay your doctor one lump sum — at a significant discount. The doctor will be pleased to get his money right away, and his office staff will be saved the time and trouble of filing insurance claims — or possibly hiring attorneys and collection agencies.

 

Negotiate a payment plan. 

Talk with the billing department about your financial situation, and ask to set up a payment plan. Many doctors’ offices and hospitals will allow you to make payments at zero percent or very low interest. That will lower the “amount due” on your bill to a more manageable amount.

Decide on a time frame and payment you’re comfortable with, then make sure you pay your bill on time each month.

 

Keep your credit card in your pocket. 

That little piece of plastic may be convenient, but it’s one of the most expensive forms of financing because interest rates are so high. Plus, your health care provider could hit you with a processing surcharge of up to 4 percent to boot.

 

Consider other ways to pay. 

Take advantage of your company’s health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA) to cover the cost of care. Ask your provider for a “prompt pay” discount while you’re at it.

If you don’t have this option, check on discount programs available through your health care provider or hospital. But you have to be proactive — in other words, you have to ask for help.

 

Call in professional help. 

Experts report that medical billing advocates can help you save up to nearly 50 percent on your medical bills. A professional advocate will do a line-by-line analysis of your bill, looking for clerical, coding, and other types of errors. 

But beware. You may be charged as much as $100 to $200 per hour for their services. Or the advocate could charge you 25 to 35 percent of whatever he saves you. You’ll have to decide if the extra help is worth the price.

 

For more information, go to websites like the Medical Billing Advocates of America at billadvocates.com or Medical Cost Advocate at medicalcostadvocate.com.

 

 

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  • FC&A Staff Writer