5 Ways to Save on Healthcare Costs

Family Health, Power to the Patient
on April 1, 2009
David Damer

At a little more than $2, the cost of a bottle of aspirin isn’t exactly a budget-breaking medical expense. But those little white tablets — which have practically doubled in price in 10 years — may be a good indicator of the dramatic swell of healthcare costs. Luckily, we’ve got just the prescription: Follow the five simple tips below and save up to 30 percent on your medical bills. A big gain, for only a little pain!

1. Negotiate. When ShoppingQueen.com founder Fatima Mehdikarimi was expecting her second child and didn’t have maternity coverage, she negotiated for a lower price. It paid off: She saved about $5,000 on the delivery by pre-paying in cash and convinced her obstetrician to give her a 25 percent discount on his fees. Another tip: Work out a payment plan for bills you can’t pay all at once. “Hospitals and doctors are stuck with so many unpaid bills,” Mehdikarimi says. “If you’re willing to pay, they’ll work with you.”

2. Outsmart the pharmacy. If there’s no generic version of the drug you need, ask your doctor for a higher dose of the name-brand pill and split each in half. Or see if an older medication that has a generic equivalent is an option for you, suggests pharmacist Paul Reyes of the prescription benefit management company Medco. And while most drug plans won’t pay for more than a 30-day supply of a drug you pick up at the pharmacy, mail-order drugs-which normally come in a three-month supply-can save you up to 50 percent compared to buying at the store, Reyes says.

3. Choose multi-tasking doctors. When Sally Herigstad, a Seattle CPA and author of Help! I Can’t Pay My Bills learned that her kids’ dentist wouldn’t do check-ups and cleanings in the same visit-meaning she’d have to shell out the co-pay each time they went back-she found another dentist who would. Follow her lead and ask your doctor or dentist about scheduling simple blood tests and vaccinations with check-ups to cut your overall bill.

4. Check your bill. The billing codes hospitals use may explain why so many mistakes go unnoticed. Jason Beans, CEO of Rising Medical Solutions, a Chicago firm that helps clients save money on their medical bills, says that more than half the bills his company sees contain at least one error that increases the total cost. Avoid unnecessary charges by plugging in each code at ama-assn.org.

5. Get organized. To avoid paying a bill twice or ending up with late fees, designate one file folder for each family member. Keep medical bills in the person’s folder and staple them to the insurance statements as you receive them. Don’t pay your doctor until you know how much insurance will cover, and when you do, write the check number, amount and date you paid directly on the bill.