Did you know that the United States, per capita, spends more than twice the average of other developed countries on health care?
Research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reveals that this higher spending likely is driven by a greater use of technology and higher health care prices, rather than more frequent hospital admissions or doctor visits.
This higher spending has had a big impact on the average American wallet. Today, many Americans are paying a larger percentage of their medical costs than ever before. Although the Affordable Care Act may have given more people access to health insurance, those insurance plans often come with high deductibles.
In order to save money on health care, American consumers should look at health care just as they look at other services they purchase. They need to shop around and follow the shopper’s maxim of “let the buyer beware.”
Here are several ways to save on health care costs they you may not have considered.
1. Do some research. You wouldn’t buy a car without doing some research, would you? You can apply that same comparison shopping mindset to buying a surgical operation or other planned medical procedure.
Ask questions such as whether a test or procedure is really necessary. Get prices – including all costs associated with a test or procedure – in advance and in writing. Ask for a signature and title along with the quoted price.
2. Pay cash – and ask about discounts. Many hospitals and clinics offer steep discounts for quick payment. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times reported that Torrance Memorial Medical Center billed a patient’s insurer, Blue Shield of California, $408 for routine blood tests. The patient was responsible for $269.42.
Yet when the patients called the hospital to question the tests, which cost $80 each, she was told that if she had paid in cash, the tests would have cost only about $15 each. In other words, she was better off to avoid insurance and just take care of the bill herself.
Get in the habit of asking if there is a cash discount or some other discount for which you might be eligible.
3. Don’t take – and then pay for — tests you don’t need. The American medical community has gone test and imaging crazy. While some of them are necessary, many are not. Be wary of agreeing to expensive scans and x-rays for uncomplicated ailments. Ask your doctor why it is needed.
Visit ConsumerReports.org/choosing-wisely for more information.
4. Examine your bills. It is not uncommon for patients to be billed twice or even three times for the same hospital service.
Health care bills are filled with codes, and they can be confusing. It is well worth your time to find out what the codes stand for and to make sure you actually had that service or procedures indicated by the codes.
5. Become a letter writer. We all like the instant communication of email and phone calls, but an old-fashioned letter is your best bet for communicating about your health care charges.
While emails often are ignored and phone calls provide no record, letters usually are answered. Be sure to make copies of your correspondence.
Another option – particularly if you need to work out a payment plan – is to visit the hospital’s billing department in person. Be polite and courteous.
This final tip will only work as a money-saver in certain situations. When faced with mounting questions and overwhelming medical bills, you can consider hiring a patient advocate to help you.
Patient advocates are expert in spotting incorrect codes as well as incorrect or duplicate charges on your bills. Some claim they can recover 20 to 50 percent of your charges. Advocates either charge a flat fee, or a percentage of what they recover.
6. Buy generic. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about generic alternatives to brand name medicines. Often they are just as effective but are far less expensive. You may even find that you can get certain generic prescriptions for less money by paying cash for them than by paying your co-pay for brand name prescription drugs.
Another way to save money on medications is to ask you doctor to write you a prescription for two or three months of medicine for a chronic ailment instead of just for one month. You can eliminate multiple co-pays this way.
You also may save money by substituting certain over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for higher-priced prescription versions. Examples are substituting OTC loratadine (Claritin) (or a generic) for prescription levocetirizine (Xyzal) or OTC omeprazole (Prilosec) for prescription esomeprazole (Nexium).
7. Stay in your network. Read your health plan carefully to find what doctors and hospitals are part of its coverage. Even if you are allowed to visit non-participating providers, you usually will pay more if you do.
On the other hand, question “out of network” charges that are not your choice. For instance, you should complain if, after surgery, you are billed extra charges for an out-of-network anesthesiologist that your network hospital chose for you. If you did not choose that doctor, you are not responsible for the penalty fee.
What advice would you add on saving on health care? Share your thoughts in the section below: