Surviving the Healthcare System: 5 Money-Saving Tips

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

I actually had a nice trip to the dentist once.

Years ago, after a routine teeth cleaning, I was given an expensive estimate for a necessary dental procedure. Since the cost exceeds my insurer’s maximum annual coverage, I will have to pay $1,000 out of pocket. Desperation and fear made me speak.

“Can we lower the price somehow?” I asked with the dental bib still attached to my shirt.

Then things took a turn for the better. My dentist discussed the request with his staff and suggested we do 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 will be covered. Asking my dentist for financial guidance – 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 practice this now more than ever. Over the past five years, more than half of U.S. adults say they are in debt due to medical or dental bills.

The advice was echoed on my podcast when I spoke with Emily Maloney, author of The Price of Life, a book that chronicles her painful observations and experiences as both a medical professional and a patient struggling with mental illness.

In our conversation, Maloney cited the many dysfunctions in our healthcare maze that can lead to huge medical bills and other problems for patients. For example, at one hospital where she worked, the facility was $54 million in debt (common for small, high-use healthcare centers), which led to medical shortcuts, fewer staff and outdated equipment, as well as billing errors and incorrect diagnoses. “That debt creates rationing, and then that restriction, of course, trickles back down to patients,” Maloney said.

5 Tips to Reduce Healthcare Costs and Stress

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

  1. Have the “money talk” with your doctor

As my experience at the dentist proved, doctors havefiduciary responsibility’ as part of their Code of Medical Ethics to promote the best interest and welfare of their patients – which includes financially.

But we should proactively mention that we want to save money. If your doctor doesn’t pick it up on his own, ask about cheaper generics. Ask them to review your health insurance to get a better idea of ​​what is financially feasible. Make sure your doctor includes the correct medical billing codes for your visit to ensure proper health coverage as well. Before booking a procedure, you can compare prices on sites like Health Care Blue Book and Fair Health Consumer 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 can delay payment right away. “Usually it’s not correct or it hasn’t been sent through all the insurances, so you end up with a bill that may not actually be accurate,” Maloney said.

You can work with a billing specialist or attorney, who may be provided by your employer, to review charges and diagnostic codes. Or call the health care provider and ask for a detailed breakdown of all billed components of the visit to catch possible errors. If your bill is correct and you need more time to pay, ask the medical office to set up a payment plan.

3. Review debt legislation

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

If your medical debt has gone into collection and it’s difficult to pay even the minimums for large medical bills, review your state’s statute of limitations for collecting that debt. For medical debt, the legal period for creditors to sue you for unpaid balances ranges from three to 10 years. In Maloney’s case, she learned about it through a collection agent who informed her that her debt had essentially “expired” and was about to be cancelled. This will mark the end of her five-figure medical debt saga.

4. Seek medical allies

It may sound obvious to say you want a doctor you feel comfortable with, but that’s not a given, especially if your insurance doesn’t allow for a wide choice of providers, Maloney said. “It’s really important to find suppliers that you can trust, and that’s something that I think can be a challenge.”

Many women don’t take themselves seriously, so it’s often hard to find compassionate health care, according to Maloney. Additionally, she said, people of color and LGBTQ patients can face significant discrimination. Look for recommendations from friends, family, colleagues and even social media groups. You can also read patient reviews on sites like Zocdoc before making an appointment.

5. Get a friendly lawyer

No matter where you end up getting care, for more serious or engaging appointments, have a friend or loved one accompany you for both technical and emotional support.

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

Seeing the bigger societal picture

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

As for a more fundamental change, Maloney proposes single-payer health care, or universal health care, where the government pays the entire bill. “There should be a system where everyone gets care. According to her, it is a myth that this kind of system will be more expensive. “It’s just a matter of who ends up paying for that care,” she said.

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