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8 Ways to Cut Hospital Costs

8 Ways to Cut Hospital Costs

Learn ways to spot errors on medical bills and reduce spending when the bills start piling up.

You may have been told to “take it easy” after your recent hospital stay, but it can be pretty hard to relax with medical bills piling up. Should you just (eventually) pay them? Make a pile and stash them away? Neither! The fact is that while going through medical bills is a pain, doing so can very likely save you money. Here are eight tips to review the bills as painlessly as possible – and find ways to cut your costs.

1. If you know you need surgery ahead of time. Make sure that the surgeon you’ve been referred to is in-network and affiliated with hospitals covered by your plan.  Those two steps alone can save you thousands of dollars. If you find that a number of local hospitals are covered, call their billing offices and ask for estimates on your procedure. Nearby hospitals may offer the same service for a much lower price. Ask your doctor if he or she has privileges at more than one hospital and if the procedure can be scheduled at the lower-cost option. 

2. After your hospital stay. Expect to receive a flurry of bills from the hospital, your doctor, the surgeon and any specialists who treated you. You may not recognize all of their names or even remember having some of the procedures. But don’t panic about the total amounts due on the bottom line. Most likely your insurance company hasn’t processed these bills yet. The amount that you’ll ultimately owe may be far lower once your insurer makes its contribution. In addition, your insurer can often remove expensive, non-billable items, like surgical equipment.

3. Get an itemized receipt. Bills won’t always contain details on specific services and items that you were charged for. Now’s the time to call or visit the hospital billing office and request an itemized hospital receipt, which will provide more complete information. It’ll be long and may be a little intimidating, but the time you spend looking it over can help you save big if overcharges are found. If you don’t understand it, make an appointment with a hospital financial representative. They can help explain unfamiliar medical terms and codes.

4. Pay attention to details. In reviewing the itemized receipt, you’ll want to look for errors, double charges or fees from services that you didn’t actually receive. You may not know – or remember – all the details of your stay, so request a copy of your medical record as well and compare the two documents side-by-side. If you find errors on the itemized receipt, contact a manager in the hospital billing office and request that they deduct the charge from the amount due, then ask for a revised statement showing that the corrections have been made. 

5. Organization is key. Create a filing system for your paperwork and organize it by date. Insurance companies look up claims this way, so it’ll help when you call with questions. Also, if you get multiple bills for the same thing, you’ll be able to avoid repeat payments by realizing that new bills match paid or closed claims that you’ve kept on file. 

6. Total your out-of-pocket expenses. Now that you’ve done your homework and know that the balances are accurate, you’ll be able to make a plan for getting them paid off.

Find out how to cut your prescription drug costs, too. 

7. Negotiate. If you’re unable to cover your out-of-pocket costs right away, speak to the hospital financial services department. They may be willing to negotiate your balance due because it can be better for their bottom line if you pay an agreed-upon price, rather than letting your bill go to collections. They may price match if you tell them about lower prices at nearby hospitals, cut costs if you pay your bill upfront or agree to an interest-free payment plan that suits your budget. 

8. Ask about your hospital’s financial-assistance program. Every hospital has its own application and requirements for financial assistance. Usually, information about programs can be found on hospital websites. If not, ask customer service or a financial representative for details.

Finally, do not ignore your bills. Ignoring your bills won’t make them go away, but tackling them head-on can help decrease stress over your finances. Once you get started, that pile of papers will begin to feel less overwhelming. Healthcare providers are much more willing to work with you—and less likely to send your bill to collections—if you call them sooner, rather than later.

Learn more ways to manage money worries. Take the Financial Stress Test to check your stress levels and learn ways to reduce it.

Rose Hayes, RN, BSN, earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the University of Virginia. She has over seven years of inpatient clinical experience in the acute care of the elderly, pediatric oncology and palliative care, and served as a Frontline Leader at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Rose is an associate editor and producer at Sharecare.

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