Cutting thousands off your medical bills

Seven On Your Side
May 17, 2010 2:41:48 PM PDT
According to an online survey just 20 percent of patients tried negotiating down medical bills. But of the patients who tried, three out of 4 were able to lower their bills. And as one New Jersey man found out - asking costs you nothing - but can wind up saving you thousands. Steven Greibrok has turned pain into profit.

"I can take alot of pain for $2,000," he said.

That's the amount Steven sliced from his medical bills when he opted for outpatient surgery with no anesthesia.

"He (the doctor) looked me right in the eye and said 'How much pain can you take?'" he explained.

A lot less extreme was when he shopped online, and found the best hearing aids at the lowest price for his daughter. That saved hundreds from the doctor's bill who did the fitting.

"That's $200 that I can use for other things in my family," Greibrok said.

A few years ago Steve started haggling for dollars when he lost his job and had to pay for his own health care. He started asking doctors for discounts. "I'll put it right out there, 'Is there a less expensive way to do this?'" he said. "Just be direct."

His big tip is a tried and true bargaining ploy: Offer paying in cash. Cash in hand, meant deep discounts.

"It was ultimately about a 20% discount over what he'd been billing me in the past," Greibrok explained.

"We've seen people that have saved 10, 15, 25%. Even 30 or 40%." says Angie Hicks. She should know. She's the Angie behind Angie's List, the online website that gives unbiased reviews of local services like doctors.

She says start the negotiation by finding out the lowest price area hospitals are charging for your procedure. A government website has a searchable data base that provides a range of prices.

"Talk to the billing department," advised Hicks. "Find out what kind of payment plans they might have and what kind of discounts they might be able to offer you."

And afterward, scan your explanation of benefits, an itemized list of charges, and dispute discrepancies.

"More often than not, we find people don't read those they might miss an error," Hicks said.

And it's worked for Steve. He's healthy and happy after saving thousands in just a few years.

"I have no problem saving more than 2 thousand dollars," he said.

If you feel funny doing this, just remember hospitals and doctors negotiate with insurance companies all the time. So they're used to it. And if you can pay in full, you can have a much better bargaining position. If you can't, doctors sometimes offer payment plans with zero interest.


Government Website to compare medical procedure prices

Story by: Nina Pineda

Produced by: Steve Livingstone CONNECT WITH NINA PINEDA