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Cut your medical bills by 30%

Discounts can be had if you're willing to speak up, and to do a little homework.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 25, 2013 12:43PM

Unless you're supremely healthy and/or supremely lucky, you'll probably face medical bills in the coming year. That slip and fall on the ice, a bad case of the flu or a simple strep throat can dig deeply into your wallet.

Here's a frugal tip: Right now, while you're not sick or injured, is the time to work at reducing medical costs. That goes for annual exams and any tests that accompany them as well as for that bronchitis your kid brings home from school.

For example, you might be able to save 30% off the cost of an appointment right off the bat, just by offering to pay upfront and in cash.

"Prompt-pay discounts are often in the doctor's interest because they reduce paperwork hassles and financial uncertainties. Some medical professionals offer 10 to 30 percent discounts for patients who ante up within 30 days," says Caroline Mayer of the next Avenue blog

Mayer herself recently saved $200 on a bone-density scan. How'd she swing a deal like that?

Once again, simply by asking. Her out-of-network physician wanted $400 for the procedure, but Mayer found out she could get it done for less somewhere else. She asked for a price break, and the doctor cut the fee in half.

Win-win: She didn't have to go somewhere else, and he got $200 he would otherwise have missed.

Image: Prescription medicine expenses © Don Farrall, Photodisc, Getty Images"Doctors and dentists (hospitals, too) are used to negotiating," Mayer says.

It's best to have this discussion in advance of the visit. But if you don't and the bill you receive seems high, "you can try bargaining it down."

When good care costs too much

Suppose all medical bills seem high to you? Do a little legwork. Sites like FAIR Health, New Choice Health and Healthcare Blue Book tell you the insurance-paid rates in your region.

It helps to have the precise name of the procedure or, if possible, its billing code. Mayer notes that some procedures have more than one code (her scan had two).

Uninsured? Consumer Reports suggests asking potential health care providers to accept those researched rates (or even less) paid in cash at the time of service.

Emphasize that you like the care you receive but that your financial situation requires that you save money wherever you can. If you're too embarrassed to ask the doctor directly, talk with the billing manager about discounts, Mayer says.

If your bills are tough to manage, ask about assistance from public, private or nonprofit programs. "Don't assume you won't qualify for financial aid," Mayer says, especially if you've faced a lot of medical bills lately.

More ways to cut costs

No insurance? Look for free or pay-as-you-can sources for health care:

If you need dental work with a high co-pay, ask if you can pay by the month for up to one year -- and ask that this arrangement be interest-free. You never know. If your dentist agrees, be sure to hold up your end of the deal, i.e., don't be even a day late with your payments.

Finally, see if your state has a health care advocate program. Mayer notes that nonprofit groups such as the the Patient Advocate Foundation will negotiate for you, sometimes for free.

More from MSN Money:

16Comments
Jan 25, 2013 4:21PM
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What a STUPID article!!!   First of all Donna---if you live in the state of Washington, and if you have medical insurance---- you can't negotiate price and I would assume that most other states have the same rules.  (In Alaska, EVERYTHING is different) The Dr. sends the billing charge directly to the insurance co , then they pay the ALREADY negotiated contracted price with the Dr.  If you don't have insurance---yeah---- you can make a deal or try to anyway.  But here's a kicker--- Lets say a Dr bills you $200.00 for something.  He sends that to the insurance co. and they do there thing and send the Dr the already negotiated price of about 40-55% of the $200.00 (unless the bill went to Medicare or Medicaid then it will be between 28-35%).  So lets say that the doc ends up with $100.  Now if you go in and get/need  that same $200 thing and you don't have insurance--- and you negotiate ---  what will you offer--$100?  Sure, he'll do that, because that's what he was going to end up with anyway.  Go lower to say $50.00--- as they say in New York--Forget about it!  So really your article should have had the headline of ---If you don't have medical insurance, you can try and negotiate your bill, but if you have insurance --- you can't. 
Jan 26, 2013 12:21PM
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WALTERJAX: Have you priced coverage of late?It`s awful.I couldn`t get coverage because of a minor back problem.There`s about 6 conditions that would prevent someone(before

Obamacare) from getting coverage.Live without coverage and go broke with a minor

illness.

Jan 29, 2013 1:24PM
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I would personally not shoot the messenger if their (free) advice was deemed unworthy for some reason. My primary points are these: 1) no one who lives here in the USA goes to Canada or UK for their healthcare - those folks (including a Canadian bigwig, famously, from their "ruling class") are coming here. Why? You wait 6 months or more for an MRI in Canada, or you are left to die without a glass of water (fact, not hyperbole) in a hospital waiting room in Great Britain. These are the "fruits" of "Universal Health Care." The part of that is Universal is that it Sucks with a Cap for everyone equally. Oh, unless you're part of the government. Same as here, those rules won't apply to our "rulers" in the federal govt, only to slobs like you and me; 2) there is a complex equation as to why health care is so expensive; two factors unquestionably have contributed their share and more - a) the unwillingness of the "young and healthy, indestructible" to purchase health insurance, even at pennies a day; they would rather use it for beer money or cosmetics; b) the cost of paying for unlimited health care for those who won't lift a finger to help themselves (they can do so, but they refuse - these people are rightly titled as "bums" - and the illegals (last count was 11 MILLION) who don't pay into the system except on the Cheat-O's they buy, and if they're sick with a cold we treat them in the ER; they get whatever they need, believe me, and are not turned away. If this doesn't make sense to you, have a person with discernment translate for you.
Jan 28, 2013 12:44PM
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Pappa Bush says don't get sick and I say if you're on Medicare and Soc. Sec. and have no other assets or income they can't touch yourS.S.beefit so just don't pay f___ em !
Jan 28, 2013 6:47PM
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The sad truth is, we could all be paying about half for our Medical coverage, had Republicans not blocked the Universal Healthcare Bill, lets compare our cost to those in Europe per year,

United States    $7,538 Ranked 37th in the world for affordability and quality of care.

France               $3,696 Ranked #1 in the world

Germany            $3,737

Sweden              $3,470

UK                      $3,129

Better coverage at half the price, it's never to late for improvement, when you grab your wallet and it's 3 to 4 thousand dollars short this year, you know who to blame and it's not Obama.

 

Jan 30, 2013 5:18PM
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my doctor offers more than 50% discount on what I used to pay for my care.
VIsits are only $50 no rushed service, cheap labs and xrays
my doctor sees all patients without insurance in miami florida
phone 786-373-7975
email: iluminesse@gmail.com
Jan 29, 2013 3:36PM
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Would love to have you come negotiate 30 percent for me, the best I've ever gotten is 5% off for cash up front.
Feb 28, 2013 6:12PM
Jan 28, 2013 2:06PM
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IS THIS A JOKE? MY RATES ARE UP AND SERVICES CUT ALREADY FROM OBAMA DEATH

CARE BIG GOVT FREE NANNY STATE HEALTHCARE!

Jan 25, 2013 6:29PM
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When Papa Bush was President he had the solution for high medical bills.His

answer :"don`t get sick ".Another smart Republican.

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Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.

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