A few weeks ago I ran across an article in Woman’s Day titled ‘22 Ways to Save on Health Care’ that I thought would be helpful to self-pay patients, including not only those who are uninsured but also anybody with either an employer-sponsored plan or who buys health insurance in the individual market. Needless to say other topics kept popping up as well, and here I am now just finding the article buried in the very long list I keep titled ‘Things-I-need-to-write-about-if-I-ever-get-time.’
I’ve gone through and pulled out about a dozen of the top tips on saving money when buying health care, and provided a little additional commentary in some cases as well. If you have the time, read the whole thing, which apparently was written based on the author’s interview with Michelle Katz over at the Health Care for Less blog.
Evaluate annually. If you get health insurance through an employer, review your options each year during the open-enrollment season. This goes for self-pay patients without any health insurance as well, regardless of whether an employer offers coverage or not – while it may have made perfect sense 5 years ago to drop all coverage, things may have changed that would make it worth re-examining not just whether you should have insurance but also any self-pay arrangements you may have. For example, if you have children and find yourself regularly taking them to the doctor’s office, it may make sense to switch from a cash-only doctor you pay only when you see to a direct primary care practice.
Ask for a discount. Everything in health care is negotiable… For $7.95 you can get a medical costs report from HealthGrades.com… Armed with the facts, you’ll be in a better position to negotiate. Or call your insurer’s customer service number and ask about the rates it pays physicians in your area. These rates are typically lower than the sticker price set by providers. Ask your doctor if she’ll accept a similar amount. Good advice, but… the simple fact is that you don’t have to ‘negotiate’ or invest time and money in trying to find out what insurers pay if you just visit cash-only doctors or any other health provider that posts their prices, often much lower than what insurers pay other providers for the same service
Find it for free. If you have a health condition for which new treatments and cures are being developed, you may be able to get free medical attention. Check the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website… or ask your doctor to call 800-411-1222 to find out if your condition is currently being studied.
Ask to prioritize. Faced with an overwhelming treatment plan? Ask the dentist to prioritize your care, then spread out the work over a period of time.
Finance it. If the work can’t be delayed and you don’t have the money, ask for a payment plan. Many dentists will work out something or will suggest a financing plan such as CareCredit (CareCredit.com), a company that lets patients make payments over 90 days without interest. There are also companies that will finance not just dental care but a wide range of medical needs, discussed here in this post on medical lending.
Find a dental school. Try going to a clinic at a major dental school; it will be staffed by closely supervised students in their final years of training. The cost is about 50% less than for dentists in private practice. Here is the American Dental Association’s list of accredited dental schools.
Use outpatient services. Many procedures, even simple surgeries and invasive tests, can be done without being admitted as an inpatient, so talk to your doctor. This. If there is one overwhelming lesson people need to take away from everything that I’ve written on this blog, it’s that if at all possible avoid having anything done in a U.S. hospital if it can be done elsewhere, like a doctor’s office, independent lab, imaging center, or outpatient surgery center.
Go to a walk-in clinic. For routine issues like an earache or sore throat, visit a clinic (even retail stores like Walmart have them). Some take insurance, but if they don’t or you don’t have coverage, the cost will typically be affordable.
Negotiate the cost. If your insurance doesn’t cover your entire medical procedure, call the hospital’s billing department and negotiate the amount you’ll have to pay out of pocket. (Do this before the procedure, not after.) Again, no negotiation is necessary if you visit a hospital or surgical center that offers real, up-front pricing, but these are few and far between in the U.S. If medical tourism isn’t your thing, you can bring in a bill negotiator either before or after care to help reduce the cost. And yes, before is better than after.
Get samples. When your doctor prescribes a new medication, first ask if there are generics or OTC medications that could do the same job. If the brand name is a must, ask the doctor for samples to get you started. Go to CRBestBuyDrugs.org for reports on the most inexpensive and effective drugs, which you can print out and take to your next doctor’s appointment.
Be a splitter. High-dose pills are generally priced the same as their low-dose counterparts, so ask your doctor if you can safely split a higher-dosage pill in half. Twice as many dosages for the same amount of money—or 50% off.
Find help. If you have no prescription-drug insurance coverage, you may qualify for a public or private assistance program that will help you pay for the medications you need. Pharmaceutical companies run patient-assistance programs; many states and other programs can help, too. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance offers a site… developed by major pharmaceutical companies and patient advocacy groups. If you’re eligible, you can enroll in programs through this site. NeedyMeds.com also offers prescription assistance programs.
Some great advice for self-pay patients!