9/20/2013 4:45 PM ET|
When to bargain with your doctor
Most of us wouldn't think to haggle with our doctor over the cost of an operation. But bargaining over medical prices does happen, and you can save big if you do it right.
Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor for car site Edmunds.com, negotiates purchases and leases for his company’s fleet. He never expected his bargaining skills to come in handy at the doctor’s office.
Phil was considering knee surgery, and his doctor’s office told him his out-of-pocket costs would be $5,000. But when Reed balked at the price, his share of the cost suddenly dropped to $3,500.
“I felt like we were at a used car lot,” Reed said.
“By and large, most Americans don’t think they can negotiate anything except a car,” Yeager said. Yet as with cars -- perhaps even more so -- the cost of medical services is rarely fixed.
Even people who are skilled at haggling down other costs may be hesitant to seek a better deal from a medical provider. A Consumer Reports survey of 2,000 adults found that nearly half had tried bargaining down the price of an antique or collectible, and 89% were successful, saving an average of $72. One third had tried haggling the price of a cellphone plan, with a 76% success rate and savings of $80.
But only one in five had tried negotiating a medical or dental bill. Most of those -- 69% -- were successful, and the average savings was considerably higher: $300.
Some people try bargaining because they don’t have health insurance or have big deductibles, Yeager said. But any out-of-pocket expense may be negotiable. Diane Ostrowski Martin of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., told her dentist’s office that the fee it was charging for crowns was too high. Immediately, she reported, the price came down.
Offering to pay cash is one way to win a speedy discount, as Chris Peplinski of Plymouth, Minn., discovered.
“For the birth of our child, I called the billing (department) and told then I could pay $1,500 today but had to make payments on the $2,300,” Peplinksi wrote on my Facebook fan page. “They took my offer.”
Not every reader reported success, however. Joyce Taylor of Stillwater, Okla., wrote that her request for a break “didn’t go well.”
"My doctor looked at me and said, 'I don't have any idea how much anything costs,'" Taylor wrote.
Knowing whom, when and how to ask are the keys to getting a deal, Yeager said. His advice:
Bring it up early in the conversation. Your ability to pay is a relevant factor in medical discussions. If money is tight, alerting your medical provider in advance is often better than trying to fight unmanageable bills after the fact. “I would never encourage anyone to plead poverty if that isn’t the situation, but these days a lot of people are hurting,” Yeager said. “Disguising that fact until after the procedure doesn’t make any sense.” (What if you’ve already incurred the costs? You’re not out of luck. There are plenty of ways to get a break, as I wrote in “How to haggle over medical bills.”)
Talk to the billing department. As Taylor discovered, the person providing you the medical service often isn’t the one who sends out bills and wrestles with insurance companies for reimbursement. Talking to that person or department may take you further in your efforts to get a break.
Research the blue book cost. The Kelley Blue Book can help people figure out what they should pay for a car. The Healthcare Blue Book offers a similar service, posting average prices for thousands of medical and dental treatments. You may be able to negotiate a better deal, of course, but the averages can help you in your negotiations and alert you if a quoted price is far out of line.
Ask what insurers pay. Insurance companies negotiate significant discounts off the “rack rate” of what medical providers supposedly charge, said Nicholas Newsad, a senior associate at HealthCare Appraisers and the author of “The Medical Bill Survival Guide.” If you don’t have insurance, it’s fair to ask that you be charged no more than what your area’s largest insurer would pay for the same procedure.
Offer to pay cash, if you can. Paying with cash means the medical provider doesn’t have to wait months for money or pay a cut to a credit card processor.
Settle for an affordable payment plan. If all else fails, ask for more time to pay the bill. “A longer repayment term is a pretty easy get,” Yeager said. Many providers offer interest-free, two-year repayment plans that you may be able to extend even further.
“The bottom line,” Yeager said, “is that it always pays to ask.”
Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.
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This morning I wrote our Governor (I live in Michigan) and asked him to find someone
to introduce a Bill in Congress to make hospital, doctors, dentists ect. post what they
charge for medical treatment. I feel this would encourage competition between
hospital and the medical profession to drive down the cost of services. In most
instances, when you go into a hospital you have no idea what they charge until
you get the inflated bill. I , personally would like to see this done. What do you
I went with my wife to have a dermatologist look at a spot near her eye, turned out to be nothing but before we walked out they insisted on taking a Kodak Easy Share digital photo for their records, the nurse just snapped a photo in the hallway and when the invoice got to us it was $80 for photography.
$80 bucks for a digital photo to put in the record to protect them, what a joke.
When you are in an ambulance and they tell you that you are having a heart attack and stick a clipboard under your noise and tell you that you must sign in order to be treated what are you going to do. Both times my insurance at work had 5000,00 deductibles. I had a burst appendix and I sat in the waiting room six hours in terrible pain before they got to me. I sure did sign those papers also. I had colon problems and had all those tests that were not covered until you reached the deductible. I am so in debt over this. I hate Methodist Hospital here in Memphis. They charged me over a hundred thousand dollars for 1 night in ICU. My insurance paid all but 20% After insurance paid I still owed $8000.00 which I didn't have. I don't use credit cards. I found out that I can go bankrupt with credit card debit, but you can't on medical bills. I had always heard that as long as you are paying them something that they couldn't come after your pay check. WRONG! Methodist Hospital served me with papers even though I had been sending them as well as 12 over medical bills money every month. They would not lower in either. I had them paid down to 2500.00 dollars and they would not let me make anymore payments and sued me for the rest. I had to sell a family treasure to get them off my back.. I reported them to the Federal Trade commission for harassment so that they would not call and threaten me at work even though I was sending them money. They ceased calling at work. What can you do to make them go away like charging up your credit cards buying clothes, and expensive vacations, etc.
I had a procedure done that was not successful. My insurance did not pay a significant portion of the bill. I fought by complaining that I only had been given a brochure that said it would be successful . The hospital and the doctor backed down and the bill was cut in half. I still feel like I was ripped off, but not as much as I would have initially.
my doctor always orders an x-ray on my wallet before scheduling any procedure with me or my family
do any of you know what title is given to the medical school graduate with the lowest possible passing grade point average?
the answer after this brief message.
This article has some good information. As a medical billing professional I just want to add that if a patient is having a hospital procedure they need to be made aware that they will receive several different bills. Some hospitals bundle everything in one bill but a majority of hospitals have separate billing for each department. For example, Radiologists, Physicians and Anestheiologists may all have separate bills on top of the hospital bill.
Phil Reed must remember that when most folks are purchasing a car, a used one especially, that what matters the most are the monthly payments and how long they last.
that's the way I pay medical expenses for the part that insurance does not cover. i'm too old for decent insurance and too young for medicare (another year.) so if ain't broke, but is slightly to moderately bent, i'm not worrying about it until next year.
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