2008 Insurance Guide
insurance
10 ways to save on health care costs

Don't forget that hospitals are willing to work with people who have severe financial problems. If you need to have a procedure performed but feel there is no way you can pay the bill, ask if the hospital is willing to work out a payment plan. "Lots of hospitals have policies about (serving) underinsured people. They have sliding fees scales and (are able to arrange) various payment arrangements," says Stewart.

5. Ask if recommended services are necessary

"One of the major pieces of advice I would give any patient is to not be afraid to ask questions," says Dr. Charles M. Cutler, medical director of quality for Aetna, an insurance company, and co-author of "Navigating Your Health Benefits for Dummies."

Ask about all the services your physician is recommending, including hospital room stays, lab tests, medications and anything else.

"If you're concerned about the cost of a procedure, and whether or not it is discretionary or could be done at a later time, you should ask your doctor," he says. One factor in lowering costs may be postponing, or even eliminating, a needless test or procedure. That decision needs to happen in partnership with your doctor, but by asking, you could save money.

6. Explore state-sponsored hospital Web sites

The Health Care Price Transparency Act of 2006 requires hospitals to report to the public information on specific inpatient and outpatient charges.

According to the American Hospital Association, 33 states already require hospitals to report pricing information and 10 more are voluntarily doing so. As an example, the South Dakota hospital pricing information Web site lists average annual costs for the 25 most common procedures performed at the state's hospitals. That site reveals that the average charge for delivering a baby at one hospital is nearly $500 more than the same service at another hospital in the same city.

While these rates represent averages, checking a Web site before checking into a hospital could save you hundreds of dollars on your medical bill. Check your state's hospital association to find out if local pricing is available online.

7. Check your insurance company's Web site, too

One major drawback of looking up prices online or contacting finance departments is that the pricing information you receive is likely to be a hospital's high list prices. If you are insured, your insurance company probably negotiates a lower rate for you, even if you have a very high deductible.

Fortunately, several providers are helping solve this problem by proactively placing their customer's out-of-pocket price information online.

Cutler says that Aetna is implementing an online rollout of comparative cost information in several states, since primary care doctors usually aren't able to provide this information to their patients.

"Most physicians wouldn't know the cost of lab fees or what the cost of another specialist is," he says. "That's one of the reasons why we've been trying to provide more information. (We want) to help people get some of that cost information."

Check with your insurer to see if it lists comparative costs online. Also, be sure to verify that any additional specialist you plan to use (such as an anesthesiologist) is covered by your plan.

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