When you go car shopping, it’s not uncommon to haggle over the price. The same could be said if you’re buying a new appliance, hiring a contractor for a home improvement job, or even shopping at a yard sale. So who’s to say you can’t negotiate the cost of your health care?
Well, in many cases, you can.
It might be one of the best-kept secrets in the health care industry, but there are occasions where consumers can negotiate price and payment with their doctors, dentists and hospitals and possibly save hundreds, even thousands of dollars.
While some medical practices have a set payment and billing schedule, others are prepared to offer discounts and payment plans, and will help patients work through the process.
Because this trend is in the early stages, those options don't get marquee billing. Most of the time, you have to ask your medical provider for savings or payment options, but as consumers become more savvy, medical providers will likely be more willing to negotiate.
So what options are available? For starters, uninsured patients or patients with high deductible plans who pay without using their insurance benefits may save up to 50 percent on procedures by paying their bills in full immediately. Many providers offer discounts, zero percent interest payment plans and senior citizen discounts.
If you're insured and use your benefits to cover your procedure, you can still negotiate costs not fully covered by your insurance provider. You can maximize your savings by paying with cash or by check.
It's important that as health care consumers we also focus on billing accuracy. Some patient advocates estimate that 80 percent of all medical bills contain errors. This isn't a matter of trying to avoid paying a fair price for service. It's making sure you're paying the correct amount and accessing options that are available. Never just pay a bill. Review it first, ask questions if you have them and be persistent.
In a recent nationwide online poll of Angie's List members, we found that 57 percent have never negotiated a medical bill and nearly 25 percent didn't even know they had that option.
Of those who have negotiated, 74 percent who asked for discounts, got them – and some ended up paying less than half of the original charge. More than 40 percent of successful medical bill negotiations were conducted with doctors' offices, 31 percent with hospitals and 18 percent with dentists.
While you should always look at your options, never put too much emphasis on price when it comes to health care. Finding providers who meet your specific needs and have all the necessary licensing and training is priority No. 1.
Remember, like any negotiations, you'll likely be more effective if you're polite and reasonable when asking about the possibilities. The worst that can happen is you learn your provider doesn't offer payment options – yet.
Ask questions – Cash (or immediate payment) is king in a medical facility. Ask if there's a discount for upfront payment or a no-interest payment plan.
Get quotes in writing – If you're price shopping before you have a procedure done, get a signature, name and title to go along with the price quoted.
Cover every doctor in the room – When getting prices, be sure you cover all fees associated with your procedure, rather than just the surgical costs. (e.g. anesthesiologist, radiologist, laboratory costs, etc.)
Be polite – Don't be overly aggressive in seeking a discount. Some medical practices will alert you to payment options, but some may not be actively publicizing them. Start with the office clerk, but don't be afraid to ask for a billing manager if you don't feel like you're getting a full answer.
Review all paperwork – If a bill seems out of line, ask about it. Check around to determine if the bill is in line with what other facilities charge. Call the billing department armed with your information and ask for the lower charge.
Call in for expert help – Medical billing is so complex that it's spawned a new industry of professional bill reviewers, sometimes called patient advocates. These specialists, which are rated on Angie's List, are trained to look for incorrect billing codes and duplicate charges. Experts say advocates can recover 17 to 49 percent and charge an average contingency fee of about 30 percent. Some charge flat fees, as well.
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