Surviving the Healthcare System: 5 Tips to Save Money

This story is part So moneyan online community dedicated to financial empowerment and advice, led by CNET Editor at Large and So Money podcast host Farnoosh Torabi.

In fact, I once had a pleasant visit to the dentist.

Years ago, after a routine teeth cleaning, I was given an expensive quote for a necessary dental procedure. Since the cost exceeded my insurer’s maximum annual coverage, I would have had to shell out $1,000 out of my own pocket. Despair and fear made me speak.

“Can we reduce the price somehow? I asked, the dental brace still attached to my shirt.

This is when things got better. My dentist discussed the request with his staff and suggested doing the second half of the procedure in the new year, which was only a month away. That way, with my renewed insurance, more of the cost would be covered. Asking my dentist for financial advice — something I didn’t know I could do — saved me $300.

This is a small example of how self-advocacy can lead to better financial outcomes, including medical savings. And, as health care costs continue to rise, we need to do it now more than ever. Over the past five years, more than half of American adults say they have gotten into debt for medical or dental bills.

The advice was echoed on my podcast when I spoke with Emily Maloney, author of Cost of Living, a book chronicling her painful observations and experiences as a medical professional and patient dealing with mental illness.

In our conversation, Maloney mentioned the many dysfunctions within our healthcare maze that can lead to huge medical bills and other problems for patients. For example, in one hospital where he worked, the facility was $54 million in debt (common for small, high-use health centers), resulting in medical shortcuts, fewer staff, and less outdated equipment, as well as billing and diagnostic errors. wrong. . “That debt creates rationing, and then that rationing, obviously, carries over to patients,” Maloney said.

5 tips to reduce healthcare costs and stress

Since the expensive costs of medical care fall largely on us as individuals, Maloney offered these essential tips that can help us save money and stress.

  1. Discuss money with your doctor

As my dental experience has shown, doctors have aFiduciary Responsibility” as part of their Code of Medical Ethics to promote the best interests and well-being of their patients, including financially.

But we have to proactively mention that we want to save money. If your doctor doesn’t tell you, ask about cheaper generics. Ask them to review your health insurance to get a better idea of ​​what’s financially feasible. Make sure your doctor includes the correct medical billing codes for your visit to also ensure adequate health coverage. Before booking a procedure, you can compare prices on sites like Healthcare Blue Book and Healthcare Consumer Fair and see if your doctor can match or beat the lowest price listed.

2. Question your medical bills

Many medical bills contain errors, so you may want to wait to pay right away. “It’s usually incorrect or hasn’t been sent to all insurance companies, so you end up with a bill that may not be accurate,” Maloney said.

You can work with a billing specialist or defend can be provided by your employer to review costs and diagnostic codes. Or call your healthcare provider and request a detailed review of all billable line items for the visit to detect any errors. If your bill is correct and you need more time to pay, ask your doctor’s office to create a payment plan.

3. Review the debt law

If a medical bill goes unnoticed and is turned over to a credit reporting agency, protections are in place to give Americans up to a year to settle unpaid medical bills before they’re posted on credit reports. Additionally, in 2023, the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and Transunion — will stop reporting all medical collections under $500.

If your medical debt has been collected and it is difficult to pay even the slightest on large medical bills, review your state’s statute of limitations for collecting this debt. For medical debt, the legal window for creditors to sue you over unpaid balances is three to 10 years. In Maloney’s case, he learned this from a debt collector who informed her that her debt was essentially “overdue” and would be forgiven. This would mark the end of his five-figure medical debt saga.

4. Look for medical allies

It might seem obvious to say you want a doctor you’re comfortable with, but it doesn’t go without saying, especially if your insurance doesn’t allow for a wide choice of providers, Maloney told me. “It’s really important to find suppliers you can trust, and that’s something I think can be a challenge.”

Many women aren’t taken seriously, so compassionate healthcare is often hard to find, according to Maloney. Additionally, she said, people of color and LGBTQ patients can experience significant discrimination. She seeks referrals from friends, family, colleagues, and even social media groups. You can also read patient reviews on sites like Zocdoc before booking an appointment.

5. Find a friendly lawyer

No matter where you end up getting help, for more serious or more challenging dates, bring along a friend or loved one for both technical and emotional support.

“The experience of being in the doctor’s office can be very stressful,” said Maloney, who has sought support when trying to find appropriate care. “Don’t be afraid to take someone with you. They can take notes. They can be your advocate. They can hang out with you in the waiting room.

Look at the bigger social picture

To improve the healthcare system, Maloney insists we need to improve health literacy across the country so that, for example, patients know when to go to the emergency room versus urgent care or a doctor’s office. Our country also needs more doctors and medical professionals, as well as a standardized electronic health record system to ensure patients receive consistent and correct care wherever they go, she noted.

As for a more fundamental change, Maloney proposes a single-payer or universal healthcare where the government foots the entire bill. “There should be a system for everyone to get treatment.” According to him, it’s a myth that this kind of system will be more expensive. “It’s just a matter of who ends up paying for that treatment,” he said.

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