Negotiate your medical bills

September 14, 2011 8:15:15 PM PDT
For many people, health-care costs are ballooning. Even if you have health insurance, many doctors and procedures may not be covered. Higher deductibles and the portion the patient pays are taking a bigger bite than ever. Still, Consumer Reports says even in these tough times, you can lower your health-care costs by negotiating with your doctor, hospital, or other health care provider.

Shari DiPaola says the bills for her son's cystic fibrosis seemed overwhelming until she decided simply to ask to pay less. She's saved thousands of dollars this way.

"When you go to buy a house, you negotiate the price. Sometimes even in retail you go to negotiate the price. Why not in medical bills?" DiPaola said.

Consumer Reports' Dr. Orly Avitzur says even those with insurance can save money by negotiating.

"The best time to negotiate is early in the process, before treatment is underway, especially if your insurance won't cover it," Dr. Avitzur said.

Start out by researching the cost of the treatment the doctor recommends. One site,, makes it easy to check prices on many procedures.

"Once you know the average price of treatment, see if your doctor will lower your bill. Another strategy is to see if your doctor will settle for the typical discounted prices paid by insurance companies," Dr. Avitzur said.

It's also a good idea to ask if the tests and treatments being recommended are the only option.

"Many times there are less expensive options that are just as effective. Let your doctor know that cost is a factor," Dr. Avitzur said.

Hospital charges are also possible to negotiate.

"Make sure the billing department knows that you're willing to work out a payment plan. And then propose an amount and a timetable that you can manage," Dr. Avitzur said.

Like Shari, you may not always be successful in haggling over medical costs ? but Shari says you can't be shy about asking.

"There is a possibility that you can bring the price down. I've seen it, it's happened. It's been a blessing," DiPaola said.

Consumer Reports advises settling all questions about cost before paying the medical bill. You'll have more leverage for bargaining that way.

This report is based on an article in the current issue of Consumer Reports magazine, page 12. The issue will be on newsstands from now until October 3rd.