A few months ago I wrote this post offering ideas/suggestions on three ways that my family members and I had recently saved money on medical bills. Ten months later I still receive frequent comments, emails, and tweets about this post, so I can tell that it continues to be an issue of great concern. And it IS- healthcare costs can be enormous and can come out of nowhere due to sudden illnesses, injuries, etc.
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All the more reason why we need to become the most savvy healthcare consumers possible, right? However, that’s easier said than done. Healthcare bills can be just as complex as the diagnoses themselves, and lay people- or even those in the medical field- can often have difficulty interpreting them.
However, even if your bill seems to be written in Greek, there are still some ways that you can save money on your medical bills. You just have to know the right way to go about it.
Ways to Save Money on Medical Bills
A few months ago, the ways I mentioned that my family and I had recently saved money on our medical bills were as follows:
- Don’t be afraid to call up and question your bill if something does not seem right.
- If you work for the healthcare system in any way, shape, or form, ask for an employee discount.
And the last one was the biggest one of all:
3. NEVER pay your bill by mail or in any way other than by phone.
You might be scratching your head over that last one. Until a year ago, I always paid our healthcare bills by using Bill Pay in our checking account. That was before I learned the best little tip on paying for healthcare bills. It’s this:
Many healthcare systems will offer some sort of discount if you call shortly after you receive your bill (or before). When you call, ask if they offer a discount if you pay in cash, pay within the first 30 days, offer to name your first child after them, etc. The healthcare system that we use offers a 10% discount if you call and pay by phone within the first 30 days of receiving the bill.
The only way to get the discount is to call and ask for it. We’ve already saved at least a few hundred from that one alone.
More Ways to Save Money on Medical Bills
In the months since I wrote that article, I’ve heard from many of you who have mentioned or discovered other great ways to save money on medical bills. Here are just a few of the suggestions that have come up.
- Get an estimate of how much the medical test/procedure will cost ahead of time. Get that estimate in writing! That way if the actual bill that arrives in your mailbox is higher, you can go back and have a solid argument to get it lowered.
- Try to get preapproval from your insurance company prior to undergoing any big medical test or procedure, if you can. Obviously if it’s an emergency there will not be time for this step, but for routine tests or procedures that are scheduled ahead of time, this is a good idea. That way you will know ahead of time if it will be covered, and hopefully this will help avoid unpleasant surprises on your bill.
- Take advantage of things like flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts if available to you. We aren’t able to do an HSA (which we are super bummed about), but we take advantage of the flex spending account through hubby’s job. Essentially this means that we can put so much money aside per year, pretax, for the purpose of covering healthcare costs. However, the drawback, at least in hubby’s plan, is that if you don’t use most of the money by the end of the year, it’s gone. Most of the money does not roll over to the following year. But, luckily or unluckily, we’ve never had that problem. 🙂
- If you call BEFORE you get your bill, you may get an even bigger discount. Here’s what reader Kim says:
I always call the billing dept regarding medical bills as soon as I receive the insurance eob. Most give a twenty percent discount if you pay prior to receiving your first bill. One hospital in Ohio gives a 35% discount if you call, and better yet I call them the day after a hospital ER visit and they will watch for the bill and call me to get this 35% savings.
–That’s so awesome, Kim! After reading about Kim’s experience, I tried this with our healthcare system, and sadly, they informed me that they do not offer a discount for calling before you receive your bill. But hey, this is another great idea to try out, since apparently some systems have this policy!
5. Invest in your own health and try to stay healthy! I love this suggestion. In my opinion this is one of the BEST ways to save money on healthcare. I’m not always super motivated to go to the gym at 6am for circuit training class, but in the long run the money I spend on my gym membership will probably FAR outweigh the costs of some preventable diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure down the road.
When in Doubt, Ask
Again, don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare system what types of discounts they offer. Just last week I called to pay a bill for our daughter’s vision care- poor kiddo had to get glasses at age 8 months. Because I don’t wear glasses, we just had single coverage vision insurance for Mr. CMF. We did not have a family plan because, well, who would have ever thought that a baby would need glasses?
We can’t switch to the family plan until the open enrollment period at hubby’s employer this fall. So essentially we are without vision insurance for our daughter until then. Which means that when she sees the eye doctor, the entire bill is on us. BUT because I called and had the lady on the phone, I started chatting her up, trying to find out what other types of discounts our healthcare system might offer. It turns out that if you don’t have insurance- or if your insurance covers nothing- you can get a 20% discount through our healthcare system. BOOM. That saved us $30 immediately.
Here’s the biggest thing you need to take away from all this:
There are ways to save money on your medical bills. But your healthcare system will almost never advertise the fact that they offer some discounts. You have to call and ask for them. Just because you’ve never heard of it does not mean that it doesn’t exist!
Have you saved money on medical bills by calling to ask for a discount? If so, we want to hear from you! How much did you save, and what did you have to do?
Suggested Reading: A great book on this topic that I came across recently is 101 Ways to Save Money on Health Care: Tips to Help You Spend Smart and Stay Healthy. This book was written in 2010, so if you are looking for help with problems specifically related to Obamacare, this will not be of much use to you. However, if you are just looking for some solid advice on how to overall lower your family’s health care costs, this book has a lot of helpful tips.
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