7 ways to save on medical bills

Cut costs without cutting corners

With the rising cost of healthcare coverage – or worse – when we’re unemployed and uninsured, bills mount and we’re likely to postpone all the health expenses we can. But when it comes to our wellbeing, there are better options. Of course, staying healthy is always the best one.
“Eat healthy. Instill healthy eating habits among children to avoid becoming overweight,” advises Linda Hawbaker, manager of Polk County Health Department’s Education Program.
For adults, staying healthy might mean giving up smoking. Young people should never start. “It saves money immediately in the cost of tobacco,” Hawbaker points out. “But it also lowers the risk for chronic diseases such as high blood pressure.”
She advises getting insurance because “preventative care can save in the long run.” Florida KidCare offers coverage from birth to 18, with prices based on parental income, she adds. Polk HealthCare Plan assists adults who have no other coverage.
Another good way to stay healthy is to keep up with immunizations, which are free though the Polk County Health Department and some private pediatricians. The Health Department also provides prenatal care on a sliding-fee scale; the federal Women, Infants and Children program (WIC) meets nutritional needs for pregnant women and children up to age 5.
“Our Travel Immunizations Clinic enables residents who travel outside the United States to obtain needed vaccinations at reasonable costs so that they have a safe trip, and avoid the possibility of bringing back any illness,” says Dr.Daniel Haight, the Health Department director.
Here are some more tips:
1. Educate yourself
Review your insurance policy with a fine-tooth comb. Know what’s covered and what’s not, says Kathleen Harris, managing editor of RealSimple.com. Before a procedure takes place, ask the provider what the fee is, if there are hidden costs and what the fees might be for complications. Verify services are covered by your insurance and confirm your doctor is in the network. “The overall point is ‘Don’t be afraid to ask questions,’ ” says Harris. “You want to be prepared so that you aren’t stuck with a surprise bill when you’re trying to recuperate.”
2. Ask about options
Ask if recommended testing and procedures are medically necessary, especially if you have no insurance or a high co-pay. Your physician may suggest a cheaper alternative.
3. Ask for a discount
A 2005 Harris Interactive poll found 70 percent of people who spoke with hospital staff were able to negotiate a lower price. The same was true for 64 percent who negotiated with a dentist, 61 percent who negotiated with a doctor, and 56 percent who negotiated with a pharmacist. Even 45 percent were able to negotiate an insurance discount.
At the very least, your provider may set up an extended plan allowing more manageable payments over a longer period.
4. Pay in cash
Offering to pay upfront in cash can take 10 to 30 percent off your bill, says Harris. It reduces the medical provider’s credit card fees, paperwork and manpower, and demonstrates you’re able to pay.
5. Go generic
Cheaper generic medicine is as effective and safe as name-brand drugs, says Harris. In fact, it is often produced in the exact same plants. Buying from a doctor-recommended mail-order pharmacy and/or in bulk, will often add to savings. Try asking if they have free samples – these can include over-the-counter cold medicines, asthma inhalers or antibiotics.
6. Double-check your bill
ConsumerReportsHealth.org reveals billing errors are common, so ask for an itemized bill and check it. Frequent errors include: inflated room/incidentals charges; duplicate fees for tests and procedures; inflated operating room time; incorrect dates of service; and human errors resulting in the wrong billing code.
7. Get an advocate
For more complex situations, consider hiring a medical-claims professional. Rebecca Stephenson, chief executive officer of Austin, Texas-based VersaClaim, Inc. and co-president of the Alliance of Claims Assistance Professionals, says fighting a $200 office bill on principle probably wouldn’t warrant hiring a professional. But if your situation is serious, overwhelming or long-term, it will most likely save you meaningful money.
“We’re kind of like medical accountants,” Stephenson explains. “We know all the codes and what a bill should look like, but we can also take the emotions out of the equation so that negotiations go faster and nothing is overlooked.”

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