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Medical bills are often negotiable

By Tonya Papanikolas | Posted - Dec. 1, 2010 at 7:00 a.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- With health care costs rising, more of the burden of medical costs is on the patient these days, whether they have insurance or not. So, did you know you can negotiate your medical bills on everything from your dentist to your primary care doctor to your chiropractor?

For many people, going to the doctor is something to dread, not only for the appointment but for the bills that come after.

Angie Hicks, founder of 'Angie's List' Consumer Reviews, says, "Consumers can absolutely negotiate their medical bills, but the thing is, most people don't even realize they can."

In a consumer review survey by Angie's List, only one-fifth of people said they try to negotiate medical bills. Of those who did try, though, 74 percent said they got a discount.

"They can save anywhere from a few hundred dollars all the way up to thousands of dollars," says Hicks.

The survey showed physicians were more willing to negotiate bills than other health care providers, with hospitals coming in second. That's good news for people undergoing expensive surgery. Hicks advises people to check in with the medical billing department before or after the procedure.

"They'll check with your insurance and find out how much they are going to pay, then you'll find out how much you'll be responsible for, and that's when you can negotiate," she says.

In some instances, hospitals and physicians have agreed to accept only what the insurance pays without collecting money from the patient. If you do have insurance, try negotiating any of the costs not fully covered by your insurance provider.

Hicks emphasizes, "Consumers really need to be involved in their medical costs, and don't be afraid to ask for discounts and special payment plans and things like that, because the worst thing they are going to say is no."

Here are some tips from Angie's List on how to negotiate your medical bill:

  1. Ask if there's a discount for up-front payment. If you're not using insurance, you can often save up to 50 percent by paying your bill in full immediately. If you can't pay in full, ask if there's a no-interest payment plan.
  2. Get your quotes and potential discounts in writing. Get a signature, name and title to go along with the price quoted.
  3. Make sure you find out the costs for every doctor and facility associated with your procedure, from the surgeon to the anesthesiologist to the radiologist and lab costs.
  4. Be polite. Don't be overly aggressive when seeking a discount. Not every office is going to give them. First inquire with the office clerk you normally check out with, but don't be afraid to ask for a billing manager.
  5. Review the paperwork and find out what other facilities charge. If a bill seems wrong or expensive, ask about it. Check around to determine if the bill matches what other facilities charge. Then call the billing department with your information and ask for the lower charge.
  6. You can also try asking for a senior citizen discount, and in some offices it can help to pay with cash or a check instead of credit or debit cards, which cost the business a fee.
  7. Check your statement of benefits for errors. Sometimes wrong codes can cause services to be denied that should have been approved,so don't overlook anything that seems unusual.

E-mail: tpapanikolas@ksl.com

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Tonya Papanikolas

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