Understand what you’re paying for with health care

It’s no secret that health care costs have been spiraling out of control for years. To fight back, your best bet is to be a well-informed consumer. Know the true costs of medical procedures, supplies and medications so you can bargain effectively; carefully anticipate and track medical expenses; and stay on top of your bills.

But sometimes, even when you follow the rules you still can get burned. I’ve heard many appalling stories about people – even those with comprehensive insurance – who have been denied benefits, over-charged, sent to collections or even forced to file for bankruptcy because they couldn’t pay their medical bills.

Here are a few coping strategies.

Carefully review each doctor, lab or hospital bill and match it against the Explanation of Benefits statement that shows how much they were reimbursed by the insurance company. Also, watch for items that may have been charged to you by mistake such as medications, supplies, treatments or meals you didn’t receive while hospitalized or getting an outpatient procedure.

Watch for duplicate charges for a single procedure (such as x-rays, MRIs and lab work), including those that had to be redone due to a technician’s error, as well as charges for a full day’s hospitalization when you checked out early.

The summary hospital bill you were sent probably doesn’t contain many details, so ask for an itemized bill along with a copy of your medical chart and a pharmacy ledger showing which drugs you were given during your stay.

If you’re having difficulty paying a medical bill, don’t simply ignore it. Contact creditors as soon as possible, explain your situation and ask them to set up an installment payment plan or work out a reduced rate.

Ask the hospital’s patient liaison to review your case and see whether you qualify for financial assistance from the government, a charitable organization or the hospital itself.

Use online price-comparison services like Healthcare Blue Book and OutofPocket.com to research going rates for a variety of medical services.

Unless it’s a true emergency, try to avoid emergency rooms and use an urgent care network facility affiliated with your insurance company or ask your doctor for recommendations.

Bottom line is know what health services cost and don’t be afraid to negotiate. You’ll haggle over the price of a car – why not your health?

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