10 tips to control health care costs

10 tips to control health care costs

The growth of high-deductible plans coupled with health savings accounts shows no signs of slowing, while the number of those insured by low copay, low-deductible plans shrinks every year. Consumer-driven plans shift more cost to patients, encouraging health care consumers to make better decisions.

1. Know your network
If you’re not sure a doctor is in-network, confirm with insurance. Also, before an emergency, find out which hospitals in your area are in-network. Even in-network hospitals can have out-of- network doctors, so if possible, check before treatment.

2. Use the tools
Many insurance carriers and some states offer online price comparison tools that give ranges or suggest the best value using a cost and quality of care calculation. Patients should also call providers and insurance carriers to confirm cost estimates and CPT (medical billing) codes involved with the procedure. Make sure the estimates include ALL costs, such as anesthesiologist and facility fees.

3. Find less expensive options
Overhead costs, specialized physicians and treating under- and uninsured patients drive up hospital costs. Ask if your doctor has surgery privileges at an outpatient center instead and look for lab or imaging tests at standalone facilities.

4. Negotiate upfront
Ask your provider about a discount if you pay before a procedure and don’t submit an insurance claim. Even when seeking preventive care, confirm that insurance covers all of the treatment.

5. Get the details
The typical hospital bill summarizes charges under broad categories. Ask for the itemized list of charges. You may find errors, double billing and charges for services you never received.

6. Challenge denials
If an insurance company denies your claim, make sure it’s valid and appeal in a timely manner if not. Customer service departments can explain the appeal process.

7. Don't ignore bills
If you have medical debt, request a discount for paying it off in full. If you can’t afford to do this or don’t want to charge it to a credit card, ask about a no-interest payment plan.

8. Be organized
Organize health care bills and insurance paperwork in one place so you’ll be ready for any surprises. Every time you speak with providers about upcoming care or medical bills, jot down names and titles and keep notes.

9. Hire an expert
Many patient advocates work on a contingency basis. If they don’t save you money, you pay nothing. Fees can range from 15 to 35 percent of the savings.

10. Share your experience: When you submit a review on Angie’s List, don’t forget to share details on out-of-pocket expenses, along with your experience about the billing and administrative process. It will help other members make smart choices.