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Medical Bargaineering: 7 Tips to Save Money on Medical Expenses

This is a guest post written by Cynthia J. Koelker, MD, author of 101 Ways to Save Money on Health Care, Tips to Help You Spent Smart and Stay Healthy [3].

If you think your employer is paying for your health care, think again. You’re the one not receiving up to $10,000 per year so your employer can pay your monthly premiums. And the situation will only get worse, with higher deductibles, co-pays, employee contributions, prescription costs, etc. What will you do to stretch your health care dollar?

As a family physician I witness these problems every day. Patients worry about the cost of drugs, office visits, lab texts, X-rays, and hospitalizations. Every physician knows ways to decrease costs, but what doctor has time to explain, when we’re expected to see a patient every 10 minutes?

It’s much easier – and faster – to spend money than to think of ways to save. But if your doctor had time to discuss the situation with you, here are a few of the tips he or she would share:

  1. Do you want the most affordable drug the first time? Bring your formulary to every doctor visit. A formulary is a list of drugs your insurance covers. No way can your doctor know what’s on every formulary. If the information is not readily available, he’ll just have to guess.
  2. Do you want to avoid expensive testing? It’s much quicker for a doctor to order an X-ray or blood work than to explain what to watch for, and whether it’s safe to wait a few days. Although longer visits with your doctor cost more than shorter visits, another fifty bucks of discussion time may save you $500 on testing.
  3. Wondering if you even need to see a doctor in the first place? Doctors love acute illnesses. They’re so much easier to treat than chronic conditions. So easy, in fact, that often you could treat yourself at home with a little know-how. Don’t call to schedule a visit. Call to ask if you need to schedule a visit. Many problems resolve on their own within a few days. Although this deprives a doctor of “easy income,” it’s money in your pocket you could use for groceries.
  4. Should you spend $2000 on colon cancer screening? That’s how much a colonoscopy will run you. But for 1/100 of that amount you can do a test looking for blood in your stool. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force states both are equally effective.
  5. Is an annual mammogram necessary? Recent analysis suggests that for women age 50-74, every two years is sufficient. And unless you’re at high risk, the benefit of a mammogram at an earlier age (less than 50) is so low that you needn’t bother.
  6. Do you qualify for a hospital discount? Many hospitals offer discounts for income levels up to 4 times the Federal Poverty Guidelines. That’s $88,200 for a family of 4. At an income of $44,100 a similar family may quality for a 100% discount on hospital fees. This usually includes both inpatient and outpatient treatment.
  7. Would you like to go to Hawaii? Quit smoking. $5 a day amounts to $1500 a year. The same patches that were by prescription a few years ago are over-the-counter today, at less than the cost of cigarettes.

These are just a few of the tips in the best-selling book, 101 Ways to Save Money on Health Care, Tips to Help You Spent Smart and Stay Healthy [3], recommended in the current issue of Reader’s Digest. Would you spend $13 to save hundreds or thousands? Sounds like a deal!