Lower Medical Bills 9/4/11

Published On: Sep 01 2011 11:20:37 AM CDT

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. Shari DiPaola, "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?"

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." Start out by researching the cost of the treatment the doctor recommends.

One site, healthcarebluebook.com, makes it easy to check prices on many procedures. Dr. Orly Avitzur, "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." It's also a good idea to ask if the tests and treatments being recommended are the only option. Dr. Orly Avitzur, "Many times there are less expensive options that are just as effective. Let your doctor know that cost is a factor." 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."

Like Shari, you may not always be successful in haggling over medical costs … but Shari says you can't be shy about asking. Shari DiPaola, "There is a possibility that you can bring the price down. I've seen it, it's happened. It's been a blessing."