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Consumer Reports: Try haggling over medical bill to reduce cost

September 26, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
For many people, healthcare costs are ballooning. Even if you have health insurance, many doctors and procedures may not be covered. Higher deductibles and the portion the patient pays are taking a bigger bite than ever.

There is a way to lower your healthcare costs by negotiating with your doctor, hospital or other healthcare provider.

Shari DiPaola says the bills for her son's cystic fibrosis seemed overwhelming until she decided simply to ask to pay less. She's saved thousands of dollars this way.

"When you go to buy a house, you negotiate the price," said DiPaola. "Sometimes even in retail you go to negotiate the price. Why not in medical bills?"

Consumer Reports Medical Advisor Dr. Orly Avitzur says even those with insurance can save money by negotiating.

"The best time to negotiate is early in the process, before treatment is under way, especially if your insurance won't cover it," said Avitzur.

Start out by researching the cost of the treatment the doctor recommends. One site, HealthCareBlueBook.com, makes it easy to check prices on many procedures.

"Once you know the average price of treatment, see if your doctor will lower your bill," said Avitzur. "Another strategy is to see if your doctor will settle for the typical discounted prices paid by insurance companies."

It's also a good idea to ask if the tests and treatments being recommended are the only option.

"Many times there are less-expensive options that are just as effective. Let your doctor know that cost is a factor," said Avitzur.

Hospital charges are also possible to negotiate.

"Make sure the billing department knows that you're willing to work out a payment plan. And then propose an amount and a timetable that you can manage," said Avitzur.

Like Shari DiPaola, you may not always be successful in haggling over medical costs but, DiPaola says, you can't be shy about asking.

"There is a possibility that you can bring the price down. I've seen it, it's happened. It's been a blessing," said DiPaola.

Consumer Reports advises settling all questions about cost before paying the medical bill. You'll have more leverage for bargaining that way.

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