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How to minimize medical bills

It’s not enough that you’re unwell and need treatment that will take up time and cause you more discomfort: it’s also gonna cost you! That’s the reality many of us live with when it comes to medicine. Finding ways to pay medical bills can be almost stressful enough to cause a whole other health issue.

There are a number of ways you can keep your medical costs under control:

Always ask: what’s it gonna cost me?

Before getting any procedure done, or starting on any lifelong maintenance treatment, ask your doctor what it will cost. Good doctors can tell you almost to the dime. If you have insurance, they may be willing to work for just what the insurance will pay. If you don’t, they will often cut you a pretty decent deal (though things like surgery are never cheap). At least that way, you know up front what you’re talking about and can make smart financial plans.

Don’t be afraid to say “I can’t afford it”

Let doctors know if a treatment they’re talking about is simply out of your financial reach. They may find a way to bring the price down (drug samples, finding an anesthesiologist who will work for less, etc.). They may know an alternative treatment that’s cheaper and effective enough for what you have.

Shop around for doctors?

Believe it or not, it’s okay to shop around for doctors. Just like getting a second opinion is important to make sure you’re getting the best care, a second opinion can also serve to let you know what someone else charges. It may surprise you how far apart two doctors may be for performing the same operation or procedure. Make sure to ask many questions, though: if one doctor claims she can do it for drastically less than another, she might be taking shortcuts on the surgery – or the more expensive doctor may be doing more than is necessary. Very often, medical procedures change over the years and sometimes older doctors don’t keep up. A doctor performing a less involved surgical technique might be the way to go, both for your well-being and your wallet. Additional research can help you decide which doctor is making more sense – online, in a library, or asking opinions from a general practitioner or nurse.

Paying for it

Once you’ve decided what procedure you’re getting and know what it’s going to cost, you must decide how to pay for it. If you’ve got savings, or can afford the amount of debt it’s going to cost you for a little while, that’s simple enough. So let’s assume you’re financially stretched right now and consider some options:

  • Flex plan. If your place of work offers flex plan benefits, you can put off the procedure until just after the next renewal and have the appropriate amount taken out of your checks to pay for it. This means you’ll have smaller paychecks for the next year, but will get the procedure reimbursed very quickly. This is a great option for some people.
  • Deduct. If your medical expenses for a calendar year are 7.5% of your adjusted gross income, you can deduct them on income tax if you keep receipts. Deductions can include parking fees, copays and lots of other expenses associated with going to the doctor and doing what she tells you, so read up and know what receipts to keep. Now: don’t get too excited. Deductions usually mean you’ll see about a quarter of that money come back to you in the form of a refund. But still, if you have your procedure done late in the year, it won’t be too many months before you can recover at least a quarter of what you paid (and the rest of your refund, presuming there is any, will help, too).
  • Work out a payment plan. Your doctor may be willing to accept payments over time for your out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Double-check every bill. There’s nothing wrong with phoning your doctor or hospital for a complete explanation of every single bill to make sure it’s really something you owe. Also check with your insurance, if you have it, to make sure the bills are legitimate – some hospitals try to bill both you and insurance for the same amount. Your insurance company should be your ally in sorting out any fraudulent billings.
  • Look for charity, aid programs, etc. Your state may have programs to help you pay your medical bills, but private charities and aid programs can help too. Some help people at certain income levels, people who need certain treatments, etc. Don’t just look online: ask your doctor for resources, and check with local hospitals, even if you’re not using one. Hospitals are often the best local resource for helpful programs in your area.