Dr. Bills - Part A

In spite of every attempt to contain prices, the cost of healthcare is increasing at a rate that far outstrips inflation—and many families are having difficulty keeping up with the rising costs. To help you deal with this ever-increasing problem, we begin a series of reports by Dr. Art Ulene.

Each day, he'll show you how to save money on a different type of health expense, and what better place to start than with doctors' bills themselves?

Today, Dr. Ulene has some surprising advice on how to make doctors' bills more affordable. What do you do if you need to see your doctor, you don't have insurance, and you can't afford the full fee?

The answer is simple. You ask for a discount.

Dr. Gary London has been practicing obstetrics and gynecology for more than 35 years. Part of his caring for women takes into consideration their ability to pay for the care. "I practice medicine because it's my profession, but I also am truly interested in giving patients the care that they need. If that requires a special circumstance payment, I'm willing to talk to them about that. "

Dr. London talking to a patient in fact, at the Center for Women's Health in Valencia , California – where Dr. London practices – providing discounts to uninsured patients is considered simply a matter of fairness.

"We discount regularly for our insured patients through our contracts with the various insurance companies. We have certain fee schedules that we agree to in advance with the various companies. It would seem unfair not to be willing to do that to a patient who also has a need for a discount."

"For the most part my colleagues are as willing as I am to negotiate with patients in need, and to, to provide services they can that are needed."

Some doctors are willing to offer much larger discounts, even give free care on occasion—to patients who've been with them for years, but now have financial problems.

Dr. Ulene says you shouldn't be embarrassed to ask for the discount if you need it.

Tips on Cutting Doctors' Bills

  • Negotiate fees with your doctor; ask for a discount.
  • Visit specialists only when necessary. Your primary care physician can treat most illnesses and conditions for a lower fee.
  • Avoid emergency rooms except in cases of trauma or life-threatening situations, as emergency-room visits can be many times more expensive than visits to your doctor.
  • Exercise and practice good nutrition. Many health problems can be prevented or improved through a change in lifestyle habits.
  • Visit www.govbenefits.gov to see what government programs are available to help you.

Don't be afraid or embarrassed to negotiate fees with your doctor. It is done all the time—and done successfully! Here are some tips to help you successfully negotiate:

  • Do not try to negotiate by phone or in a letter. Arrange to get face-to-face time with your doctor.
  • Find out what health insurance companies and/or medicare are paying doctors for the same services, and offer that amount.
  • Managed-care companies receive an approximate 40% discount—consider offering that amount.
  • Offer to pay your doctor a discounted amount up front in cash or with a credit card.