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Frugal Times :: Negotiating lower Medical Bills


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He who will not economize will have to agonize -- Confucius

Today, I spent an entire morning and part of my afternoon on the phone for nearly 5 hours trying to get the answer to a few simple questions. 

  1.  What is the price of an echocardiogram? 
  2. Where is the cheapest place in the city to have one done?

You would think I was asking for the moon. Two years ago, I had a stroke, heart attack and then cancer.  The trifecta of super scary, but not nearly as scary as my medical bills. When you are in crisis and in an ambulance, you don't really have time to negotiate which hospital you are taken.  I've learned  few things along the way that I wish to share with you as I believe there should be more cost transparency in healthcare.  This is the only industry in which you don't know what you will owe until possibly months later, once the bill has been processed and submitted to your insurance and then finally sent to you, which can literally be months.  You think you are doing just fine financially and then BOOM!  You are hit with a $14,000 bill.  Well, as I already have a mountain of medical debt and have tried to negotiate a longer payment plan to no avail, I am highly reluctant to add more debt to the pile.  So, that's the first thing, you can try to negotiate a payment plan. Most hospitals are okay with this as long as it doesn't exceed 3 years.  Well I was pushing for 6, oh well.  And if you have an HSA, you could also ask for a discount for paying in cash.  Usually they will knock 25% off of the bill which is a substantial savings if you can swing it. Well I can't, so I was stuck.  I have been collecting articles on frugality from various bloggers and posting them on my Pinterest page.  Check it out, there is a ton of wisdom and resources on offer for free!  We all like that word FREE!

So how did I sort of get around the system?  First I called my insurance company to find out if they had a preferred place for me to get the echocardiogram done.  They didn't.  Took me 2 hours to find that out.  But I also learned where I could get my prescriptions for the negotiated rate.  I had quite and eyeopener yesterday when I went to my regular pharmacy to pick up my life needed prescriptions and was given a bill for $150 rather than my usual $24. GASP!  I asked the pharmacist if I could get a weeks worth of the most expensive medicine rather than a month's worth, so I had time to call my insurance company and find out what was up.  Not a problem.  Thank you Schnucks!  I much appreciate it. So anyway, I bought what I could for $50 and found out I could get the usual $24 charge if I moved my prescriptions over to Walgreens. They said they sent a letter. Uh, huh, yeah sure you did..... Anyway, this brings me back to another tip.  Never get upset, never yell, the operators will just tune you out.  When they tell you their name, address them directly by name, "So hi Sharon, I am Lindsay. I hope you can help me today."  The common curtesy goes a loooong  way in getting the help you need.  It sounds so obvious, but these folks get yelled at all day, so when someone is nice, they are willing to go the distance to provide superior customer service.  So once I learned that they didn't have a preferred place for imaging which, I have to say I thought was a bit weird with all the independent imaging centers popping up around the country.  The same is true for basic lab work. NEVER EVER get lab word done at your doctor's office.  It will cost you a fortune!  I once had lab work done at my doctors office and was charged $2500!  The same lab work cost me $250 at a preferred lab. That is a HUGE cost difference.  Yes,  it is a bit inconvenient as you have to do a little bit of prethinking like contacting your doctor in advance to have the lab work requirements sent to you or faxed to the lab office.  But the savings is worth it!

Anyway, back to my echocardiogram story. I called my doctors office and asked how much it would cost.  I was shunted all over the office, don't give up, no one really seems to know and then they will get into their stories that blame everyone from the insurance companies to the President.  Give them a second and then redirect them back to the question at hand, with a "Well if you don't know, who in the office may?"  Today I spoke with Doris.  She was lovely. I told her my financial story to get her to understand that I really do need this information and am not just wasting her time.  So she looked it up and gave me two prices.  She then gave me the insurance code and transferred me to the hospital's pricing office.  Yes, most hospitals have them. You can call with the code for the procedure and then give them your insurance info and they will give you a good ballpark of what to expect.  Well, here is where it got interesting.  I told my fugal poor me story to Dawn in pricing  and she then told me which hospital within the hospital's network had the best price. By booking the procedure at this other hospital which is affiliated to where I normally go and trust, I am literally saving myself several thousand dollars.  All because of real estate.  I don't get it but there you go.

So, take the time to shop around. Don't see the time on the phone as a waste.  It isn't .  As an artist and teacher I have a set hourly rate and my savings far surpassed my hourly rate. And one last thing, if you are taken to a hospital where your insurance isn't accepted, I have since learned to ask for a patient advocate or patient navigator to figure out which hospital does and then to transfer you once you are stabilized.  It will again save you thousands to be back in your insurance  network though  the private ambulance will cost you, but not more than your savings.




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