I enjoyed Elizabeth Cohen’s article today entitled How to save money on health care. The video, also by Elizabeth Cohen entitled “Health Care Bargain Hunting” is also embedded below. Great reporting, thanks Elizabeth. Oddly enough, a few days ago I actually wrote out the individual steps you need to take to do this yourself on my Squidoo Lens. I have reposted it here for you.
The good news is that if you follow my instructions, you can do this. The bad news is that it can be a pretty aversive task. Let me explain. I have done this myself many times with mixed results. Even someone with advanced medical degrees is treated like a something stuck to the bottom of your shoe if he asks for a price in some medical offices. Fortunately, this is less and less the case. As a matter of fact, while refining the design of this site over the past few months I have spoken to the staff at the offices of of 2,236 Physicians on this exact topic and I can tell you that over 90% were interested in more cash-paying patients, especially the best doctors. So do not despair, this can be done and I will tell you exactly how.
How to get a Colonoscopy for Less!
Getting the best care for you and your family when you are paying out of your own pocket is not a task for the unprepared. But, as in most things, a little up front research can go a long way.
Step 1: Determine what you need
First and foremost, you need to know what you need. Do you know the name of the procedure and what it is good for? Most of us are not medical professionals or didn’t do 3 1/2 years in pursuit of a Ph.D. in Pathology before setting off as an entrepreneur (that is a story for a different day.) Fortunately, this is a problem that you can overcome without going to grad school. Research your symptoms online or, even better, go get an initial evaluation from a doctor (see a good article on the subject.)
Initial office visits to address a specific problem are usually pretty cheap and the do not obligate you to use that Doctor again. If you need to know what type of Doctor to go to I recommend searching on your condition or symptoms at WebMD. Don’t forget to get a copy of your records when you walk out! That way you can go to any doctor you want and she or he will have the benefit of the first doctor’s tests and thoughts.
In the example I use here, I have also chosen a colonoscopy, a common procedure that examines the large intestines for potentially cancerous growths (called polyps) or other problems. It is a recommended preventative procedure for people over 30 or 40 with a family history of colon cancer.
Step 2: Research Fair Prices and Make your List of Questions
The second step is to determine a fair price and a list of questions. In the last five years a number of great sites have been developed that detail what medical care should cost. My favorite is one called www.HealthcareBlueBook.com. Another good site is www.outofpocket.com.
So let’s say you have a family history of Colon Cancer and you know that you are supposed to have a colonoscopy every three years. You have a $5,000 deductible in your insurance plan so you are paying for this yourself. If you go on HBB you will see that this should be about $1,300. Another easy to use site called NewChoiceHealth.com shows that the prices could range from $1,200 to $23,000 for the same service. It is ok to be confused by this disparity, everyoneelse is too, but this gives you a range to work with.
So you know what you need and how much it should cost, that is a great start! In preparation for the final step you need to make a list of questions and doctors to call. Remember you goal is to find a great doctor that will take a reasonable price for the service that you need. You now know that there will be three fees: the Doctor’s Fee, the Facility Fee (generally the hospital or surgicenter), and the Anesthesiologist’s Fee (unless you want to be really tough and just bite some leather like John Wayne) and that they can be widely variable. Now you just have to get these Fair prices from a doctor who also happens to be a great doctor.
Can you trust the doctor review sites? I would say yes, in some cases. If there are more than a handful of reviews for a doctor you may be able to trust them. If there is only one you can pretty much be assured that it was written by someone that is biased. At the better sites each review requires a unique email address so, depending on how many friends he or she has, there could be several promotional reviews posted. My favorite Physician Ratings sites these days are www.HealthGrades.com and Vitals.com. You might also try to find a good local surgical center or a doctor who does procedures in his office. Their cost of doing business is generally much lower and the chance of picking up an infection goes way down when sick people are not all over the place spreading germs (hospitals are terrible places to be sick for just this reason.)
So pick six likely places based on quality and make yourself a list of questions like:
1. How often do people get infections after this procedure at your facility?
2. How long will I have to wait?
3. Where do I recover from anesthesia?
4. Where did the Gastroenterologist and Anesthesiolgist go to school? (should be listed on Vitals.com too)
5. Are their licenses current and in good standing? (your state usually has a web site for this too)
6. How much will it cost if I am paying directly?
7. Will you give me a copy of my records free of charge?
Step 3: Dialing for Doctors
And then start calling. You may need to ask to speak to the Office Manager but take notes and make your choice based upon who has the best answers. Believe it or not, many doctor’s offices are used to these calls. Keep in mind that they are just small businesses struggling to survive in many cases too. I know several medical offices that are closing down due to a lack of business. If you call six, I strong suspect you will find a few that need your cash business and will give outstanding care in exchange! Don’t be surprised if a full third have no interest in your business and are even rude about it. It is ok, don’t take it personally, it is just business to them.
We hope this helps! We are building this site to make the finding care for a reasonable price process easier. Until we are done with the site, please follow the above steps when shopping for care and come back here to tell us about your experiences. You can also visit FairCareMD’s Squidoo Lens if you want the full version too.