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20 Ways to Save On Medical Bills

written by: Nicky LaMarco•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 7/6/2011

None of us are Superman so we need to keep our health in check and make sure we're doing the right things in order to live the best life as long as possible. But even staying healthy costs money (as crazy as that may sound). Whether we like it or not, we need to pay our medical bills but...

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    20 Tips to Saving on Health Care

    1. Use Checking and Savings Wisely

    First and foremost, let's make sure we are on the same page, financially-speaking. If you have a Checking and Savings Account, you need to make sure you understand how to use it before you actually do use it, too many people take money out of both and spend like crazy, that's not going to work in terms of paying medical bills or anything else for that matter.

    You don't touch your savings unless it's an emergency and you don't spend your checking cash unlessd you spend it wisely. Use this example to help guide you: Set up an automatic transfer from Checking to Savings once a week with your bank, let's say it's $100 or $200, depending on your income (it could even be more at that), the rest of the money will stay in Checking. Plan to keep $1000-$2000 in your Checking (or more, it's all income-dependable). Bills come first, everything else comes last. This tip here will be extremely important when it comes down to paying medical bills.

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    To the ER... 

    2. Don't Get Sick, Stay Healthy

    Makes sense, doesn't it? Don't get sick in the first place. Much of the time, it is preventable. Reduce your stress by taking a yoga class, listen to some music, invest in a Modell's Treadmill or Elliptical machine for under $500 and exercise for 15-30 minutes a day. Don't drink often, only socially, and don't smoke (ever). Wash your hands frequently for a total of 10-15 seconds, this will help prevent flu and sickness. Be sure to floss daily in order to prevent periodontal disease. Prevention is one of the best cures around.

    3. Buy Your Own Equipment

    Crutches, braces, you name it. Why not get all of that yourself instead of letting your hospital provide it for you? Think of it as buying a slice of pizza in New York City - Buy in Manhattan and it's $2.00, but if you buy it in the Bronx or Brooklyn, it's $1.00-$1.25 (that might even include a can of soda as well!).

    4. Get a Career in the Health Field

    Becoming a part of the Health field has many huge advantages when it comes to your medical bills and paying them. Many health jobs pay your medical bills for you. Become an EMT, doctor, paramedic, nurse, nurse assistant, LPN, medical biller, a dentist, the list goes on! Some of these courses are for 3 to 6 months with prices ranging from $700-$1000. Once you graduate, try to avoid private companies as best as you can, if you need to work for one for experience purposes then do so but make it your goal to get into a hospital or some place equivalent.

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    5. Review Your Bills

    This is a big one. People make mistakes, we're all human, some notice them, some don't. Being that it's your medical bills, make it your job as well to notice them. Scan your bills for accuracy, 8 out of 10 hospital bills are bound to have errors in them. Keep a log of your medications, tests, and visits. Also be sure to take full advantage of a program called Quicken's Medical Expense Manager which is useful for tracking spending, pinpointing potential savings, overlooked tax deductions, and billing errors if any.

    Be sure to request itemized bills so that it will go into detail about the charges. Request an audit of your medical bills from your healthcare provider's billing office and/or your insurance comapny. In the event that you do find an error, correct it immediately, even if it comes down to requesting copies of your medical chart and pharmacy ledger.

    6. Study Your Insurance Policy

    Simply read your provider's policy and become familiar with what they cover and what they don't cover. Terms may change every now and then so it helps to double-check with your provider on this matter prior to getting treatment. You never know, it may cover way more than you think - Vitamins, hospitals in your area, alternative medicines, health clubs, safety equipment, and the list goes on.

    Be sure to shop around for alternative providers as well as different companies come with different rates for coverage, based upon their claims. You might find a better rate but be warned, cheaper is not always better. Things to look out for are co-payments, deductibles, and co-insurance.

    7. Budget a Payment Schedule

    If you're having issues paying your bill in full or on time, call up your billing office and ask that they work with you in generating a payment plan. Remember Step 1? Well that factors into this in a huge way. Examine your income, what you have, and what type of small, manageable payments you're able to make and when.

    8. Seek Discounts

    Try to negotiate a lower cost (especially for medical treatments and procedures). Discounts can happen by simply asking, no harm done in that. The healthcare business is a competitive industry where all providers will do almost anything to keep their customers for the long-term. Your bill could possibly be reduced to as much as 30-40% or entirely if your insurance covered a large portion of the bill.

    9. Save on Medications and Supplies

    Seek out generic prescription drugs (thanks to the FDA who tamed their restrictions with pharmaceutical companies back in 1997) which are just as effective and safe as their name-brand counterparts except they cost way less. Find out if there is an alternative over-the-counter offer from your doctor for less money. You can also ask your drug insurer to let you order directly from the plan which will save you anywhere between 15-35% on your pharmacy co-payments every month.

    Ask your doctors for medication/treamtent samples, you can get a supply of up to several weeks worth with no charge. You can even buy online to find the best medications deal. Be sure to visit the Partnership for Prescription Assistance at pparx.org where you can find over 400+ patient-assisting programs that offer discounts on hundreds upon hundreds of medications. Last but not least, compare between discounters like Wal-Mart, Costco, and other drug stores for the best prices.

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    While some of these tips may seem like no-brainers, there are several others that might surprise you. Learn a few new strategies for fighting high medical bill charges.
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    10. Open a Health Savings Account

    Consider opening up a health savings account where you can save on medical items which can't be covered in your plan. Any money contributed from yourself or your employer to this account will be tax deductible, all transactions wiil be tax free as well (that includes growth and withdrawal) for as long as the money is used for medical purposes only. You can have a high-deductible plan with as much as $1050 for individuals and $2100 for families to become eligible enough to fund such an account.

    11. Government Programs

    Go and see if you or your family qualify for public Government-funded programs like the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) or Medicaid. Eligibility requirements are going to vary from state to state but many cover families with children and income up to approximately 200-300% of the poverty level.

    12. Local Public Health Clinics

    Go to a public health clinic for flu shots and things of that nature. The vaccinations, and services that you will receive here will be much cheaper than what your doctor's office will charge.

    13. Tax Deductions for Medical Expenses

    The IRS will let you deduct any medical bills that exceed 7.5% of your gross income. You need to keep track of your receipts and reimbursements in order to determine this. This can range from eyeglasses, healthcare services, and so on.

    14. Free Tests

    Check for public health fairs or any free health clinics that offer screenings. At these places, you will be able to check your blood pressure, cholesterol, mammograms, eye exam, glucose, and much more. Don't replace it with your annual physical exam but putting these services to good use will give you an idea of your current health status and alert you of anything that requires further medical screening.

    15. Avoid Emergency Rooms Whenever Possible

    Emergency rooms are simply for serious emergencies. That means if you have the flu, a headache, earache, or anything of similar nature that will most likely disappear within a couple days, don't bother going. Emergency rooms are rip-offs and avoiding them whenever possible will save you additional medical bills... that is, unless your symptoms are extremely severe or you have the plague.

    16. Paying Cash

    Paying in cash is a good to get a discount on your medical bills. The reason for this being is that many of these doctors' offices don't have much cash to begin with (mind you, their office and their personal yearly income are two totally different things), so with you paying in cash means that they don't have to file insurance claims nor pay credit card fees.

    17. Stay Within Your Network Whenever Possible

    With Preferred Provider Option (PPO) health insurance, the majority of your medical bills will be paid (with the exception of the co-payments, of course) as long as you use a hospital, clinic, or doctor that is within the company's preferred provider network. Going outside of this network will cause you to pay a lot more. If you must go outside your company's network, be sure to call your company's pre-certification department first, explain the situation, and inquire about in-network coverage rates.

    18. Always Stay Insured

    If you plan on switching jobs next year, make sure you switch to the lowest-cost health plan available during the present year's open enrollment so that way, federal policies like COBRA will allow you to stay apart of your job's healthcare plan for about 18 months.

    19. Join Your Spouse's Insurance

    It's true, you can save lots of money by joining your spouse's health plan. But be sure to familiarize yourself with the coverage and options first. Another thing to be aware of is that many plans out there will only permit you to add a spouse under a specific time frame after getting married.

    20. Become Best Friends With Your Doctor

    This probably won't apply to many people and it may be the most complicated out of this list but there's some out there whom I'm sure knows someone they went to school with and now, years later, that person is a doctor. Well, depending on how close you are, see if you can connect enough to get you a lower bill. Call it a friendship rate if you will.