Cutting Doctors' Bills - Part B

If your doctor bills are high—and you don't have insurance—our doctor, Art Ulene has some advice that could make medical care more affordable for you.

Many doctors are willing to offer discounts to their uninsured patients, but you have to ask for the discount. "It's critical that the patients receive the care that they need, and if a discount makes it easier for them, more comfortable for them to come in and receive those services, then we'd certainly encourage that," says one doctor's administrator.

It's not as hard as it sounds. To prove that point, one of our staff members called 10 doctors' offices and asked for a discount over the phone. Three doctors offered discounts ranging from 10 to 25%. A fourth said the discount would depend on the patient's need.

Six doctors refused to discount.

Dr. Art Ulene says, "It's silly to pay full price for doctors' bills when so many doctors are willing to offer their patients discounts. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor for a discount."

Note: It is illegal for the doctors to discount Medicare fees or waive co-payments to insured patients.

Quick Tips—When Talking with Your Doctor
(from The Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality)

The single most important way you can stay healthy is to be an active member of your own health care team. One way to get high-quality health care is to find and use information and take an active role in all of the decisions made about your care.

This information will help you when talking with your doctor.

Research has shown that patients who have good relationships with their doctors tend to be more satisfied with their care—and to have better results. Here are some tips to help you and your doctor become partners in improving your health care.

Give Information. Don't Wait to Be Asked!

  • You know important things about your symptoms and your health history. Tell your doctor what you think he or she needs to know.
  • It is important to tell your doctor personal information—even if it makes you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable.
  • Bring a "health history" list with you, and keep it up to date. You might want to make a copy of the form for each member of your family.
  • Always bring any medicines you are taking, or a list of those medicines (include when and how often you take them) and what strength. Talk about any allergies or reactions you have had to your medicines.
  • Tell your doctor about any herbal products you use or alternative medicines or treatments you receive.
  • Bring other medical information, such as x-ray films, test results, and medical records.

Get Information

  • Ask questions. If you don't, your doctor may think you understand everything that was said.
  • Write down your questions before your visit. List the most important ones first to make sure they get asked and answered.
  • You might want to bring someone along to help you ask questions. This person can also help you understand and/or remember the answers.
  • Ask your doctor to draw pictures if that might help to explain something.
  • Take notes.
  • Some doctors do not mind if you bring a tape recorder to help you remember things. But always ask first.
  • Let your doctor know if you need more time. If there is not time that day, perhaps you can speak to a nurse or physician assistant on staff. Or, ask if you can call later to speak with someone.
  • Ask if your doctor has washed his or her hands before starting to examine you. Research shows that hand washing can prevent the spread of infections. If you're uncomfortable asking this question directly, you might ask, "I've noticed that some doctors and nurses wash their hands or wear gloves before touching people. Why is that?"

Take Information Home

  • Ask for written instructions.
  • Your doctor also may have brochures and audio tapes and videotapes that can help you. If not, ask how you can get such materials.

Once You Leave the Doctor's Office, Follow Up

  • If you have questions, call.
  • If your symptoms get worse, or if you have problems with your medicine, call.
  • If you had tests and do not hear from your doctor, call for your test results.
  • If your doctor said you need to have certain tests, make appointments at the lab or other offices to get them done.
  • If your doctor said you should see a specialist, make an appointment. Remember, quality matters, especially when it comes to your health.

Source: AHRQ Publication No. 01-0040a Current as of May 2002. When Talking with Your Doctor . AHRQ Publication No. 01-0040a, May 2002. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville , MD. tips/doctalk.htm