Here’s a secret to lowering your medical bills: Just ask. Most people who try to negotiate a bill get some kind of discount. While it may feel strange, there’s rarely ever a set price for health care services. Medical providers are always negotiating rates with insurance companies, so why can’t you?
Negotiate up front
Before you even have a medical test or procedure, ask about the cost and whether any discounts are available. Your provider may be able to work with you on keeping the costs down or you can tell them that you are looking around at other providers who offer the same service.
If you’re not set on a specific provider, the website FairCareMD offers a place where patients can search for providers who are willing to negotiate prices.
Figure out whom to ask
Do you already have a big bill? Find out who’s responsible — your insurance plan or your provider. If you have don’t have insurance, the answer is obvious.
But if you do, figuring out what happened with the bill might make things easier.
Did your health insurance deny a treatment? Or did your physician just charge an astronomical price? Find out first so you know not only who to negotiate with, but how.
As soon as you know that you may have trouble paying a bill, bring it up with your provider. Don’t wait until it’s past due, or they may be less willing to work with you.
Find the fair price
Arm yourself with information on the standard price for your medical procedure. The Health Care Blue Book is the best reference for fair market prices, as well as tips on how to negotiate a bill.
Get an itemized bill
For hospital stays or more complex procedures, ask for an itemized bill. This will allow you to find billing mistakes and negotiate individual items. For example, you might have been charged for medications that were ordered but never administered.
Pay with cash
Some providers will give you a discount for paying right away in cash. Avoiding the credit card fees and more money in your pocket are great incentives, right?
Set up a payment plan
Ask your provider about setting up regular installments to pay down your bill over time. Some will give you a discount when you agree to a set payment plan. If they are not willing to lower your bill, at least ask for interest-free payments.
After you have a plan set up, stick to it. If you make payments on time, your provider may forgive remaining the balance after a certain amount has been paid.
Tomer Shoval is the CEO and Co-Founder of Simplee, a free online personal health care expense management tool. Connect with him on twitter, facebook or email.