10 Ways to Fight High Medical Bills

Even if you have insurance, health care costs can quickly get out of hand. These 10 tips can keep your wallet in tip-top shape.

Health insurance helps to make care more affordable, but it doesn’t make medical bills magically disappear. No, we still have plenty to pay out-of-pocket.

In recent years, employers have shifted a greater portion of health care costs to workers. While people with employer-sponsored health insurance see their costs rise, it’s nothing compared with what some of those with individual health insurance pay.

Fortunately, there are ways to fight high medical bills and keep your out-of-pocket costs to a minimum. Following are 10 tips to cut costs.

1. Shop around

You wouldn’t buy a car or a plane ticket without shopping around, so why aren’t you also looking for the best deal for your medical care?

Of course, you won’t be asking about prices in an emergency situation, and if you’re having a complex operation, expertise will trump cost. However, when you need routine care or a nonemergency procedure or scan, you have time to check prices.

Websites like Healthcare Bluebook can help you determine fair prices for procedures and services. But ultimately, you’ll need to pick up the phone and start calling to learn what’s being charged in your area.

2. Stay in your network

While checking prices, make sure to stay within your insurance company’s network of providers. Going “out of network” can mean significantly higher co-payments. In some cases, insurers may refuse altogether to pay for out-of-network services.

You likely can search for in-network providers on your health insurance company’s website. In addition, check with the medical provider’s office when calling for prices or an appointment to confirm the doctor or facility participates with your insurer.

3. Skip the ER

The emergency room should always be your last resort. Not only do you get less personal service, but you also are likely to get hit with an outrageous co-payment. Under my insurance plan, it costs $150 to visit the ER compared with $20 for an office visit.

If you can’t wait to see your regular doctor, head to an urgent care center instead. The waits are usually shorter than what you’ll find at the ER, and care typically costs less.

4. Double-check bills

Medical bills aren’t always right. Medical Billing Advocates of America estimates that billing errors occur in favor of the health care provider 80 percent of the time.

Common errors include charges for medications never administered and services never rendered. Sometimes patients are double-billed or charged for room items that should have been included as part of a stay.

Always request an itemized statement, and check it carefully. If you find a mistake, call your provider’s billing department to dispute it.

5. Find a coupon

We know you won’t be able to find a coupon for your triple-bypass surgery or to have the doctor look at that strange fungus on your toe. However, you certainly can find coupons for prescription medications.

Drug companies want to gain your loyalty, so they’re often willing to help cover your co-pay for at least the first few refills. Ask at your doctor’s office about any coupons or samples that might be available. If you strike out there, head to the manufacturer’s website to see what might be offered online.

6. Ask for generics

If you need a prescription, ask if there’s a generic equivalent available. Generics are cheaper overall, and your health insurer may charge lower co-pays for them.

For other ways to save on prescription drugs, read our advice on how to safely save on medications.

7. Head to a dental school

About 108 million people in the U.S. do not have dental insurance, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

If you are among them, taking your teeth to a dental school can be a cheap way to get the care you need. It’s one of the five ways we recommend to slash your dental bills in half.

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  • Jim Wiggins

    Shop around? It is difficult to get actual costs after a procedure has been completed.

  • The extra $100? How much was the emergency room bill?

  • NoCellPhones

    #1 Shopping around isn’t so easy for me because the health insurance brochures aren’t written in layman’s terms. Honestly, I don’t understand their jargon so trying to compare costs, deductibles, etc. is super difficult especially on-line. #2 When open enrollment occurred I looked for a particular specialty doctor who had a great reputation. Turns out no insurance listed him. Instead, multiple foreign doctors with less than stellar reputations were listed and often these same doctors were listed 4 & 5 times for one insurance company. When it comes to my health, I wanted the best and not some hack, so I couldn’t “stay in-network.” #10 I’m all for prevention, but to see what preventive measures your health insurance suggests, they want you to log in and tell them all about your health problems. My health problems are between me and my doctor. I’d like the health insurance companies to give me suggestions for prevention, but I DON’T want them to track me or to know my personal business, which is also why I tell my doctor only what he needs to know because, of course, the insurance company want to know EVERYTHING. #8 Yes, I would consider becoming a medical tourist, and I’ve actually looked at going for medical treatment in both Mexico & Europe. My cousin is a physician in Europe.

  • ModernMode

    3. I went to an urgent care center for 5 stitches after cutting my leg, thinking it would be cheaper than the ER. Cost me $700.00. Turns out the local hospital now owns the urgent care center. They’ll get all your money either way.

  • Kate Perry

    Google is paying 80$ per>>CLICK NEXT TAB FOR MORE INFO

  • Kate Perry

    Google is paying 80$ per>>CLICK NEXT TAB FOR MORE INFO

  • Emily

    When I was uninsured, my shoulder dislocated and, unable to get it back in myself, I had to go to the ER. I refused all services, medications, etc, except for the doctor to manipulate my arm to put the arm back in the shoulder. It took less than a minute for him to slide my arm back in place.

    I was told I would receive two bills – one from the doctor for his services, and one from the hospital for the services that it provided (room, materials, etc). The problem was, the hospital not only charged for the room (to which I had no objection paying), but it also charged for the procedure. I was being charged twice for the shoulder reduction, even though I only received one procedure by one person that didn’t require any materials, medications, and took less than a minute. I asked the hospital what services it provided during the procedure, and they admitted they couldn’t see anything, but that it was customary for both the hospital and doctor to charge separately and full price for the procedure.

    I refused to pay twice for the same thing, and the hospital refused to take off the charge for procedure. The only way I could resolve the double billing was to file papers with the court. After that, the hospital settled. It was a very difficult and stressful ordeal.

  • Because I make less than 200% of the poverty income for a single person, I qualify for free medical care from a group of volunteer retired medical professionals, funded by donations. Because I am legally homeless, by the definition given by HHS on their website, I am exempt from Obamacare’s individual mandate and the fines that apply. FWIW, I’ve been legally homeless, by the same method, since the mid 80’s.

    • Kent

      Congratulations. Some of us contribute. Some of us are taken advantage of. We are the dumb ones and taken advantage of by insurance companies, drug companies, hospital administrators, hospital advertising agencies, drug advertising agencies and on and on and on…Healthcare is too important to trust to our profit motives. It’s NOT ethical. If the Monopoly game was being invented today, healthcare would be the property to own.

      • Then why don’t you patronize ethical providers instead of supporting those you regard as unethical?

  • Kent

    Check your bills against what is fair and reasonable on several sites. If you’re being cheated, your healthcare provider deserves to be embarrassed.

  • jim jones

    You have to be destitute to be eligible for any real relief!

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