Haggle Your Way to Lower Health Care Bills

Everyone knows about bargaining for a better price on a car, but did you know you can also play "Let's Make a Deal" with your doctor?

"The Early Show" Consumer Correspondent Susan Koeppen says it's smart to haggle with over costs with health care providers. She says it's something anyone can do - whether or not you have health insurance -- and it could save you thousands of bucks.

Steven Greibrok knows it. He tells CBS News he's a health care haggler. He asks his doctors for discounts.

"Health care is important, but there's other places we would rather spend our money," he says.

The Jersey City, N.J. father of two reports saving thousands by haggling for health care, getting $200 off hearing aids for his daughter, hefty discounts at the dentist, and more.

In a recent survey by consumer website Angie's List, 74 percent of respondents said they'd gotten a medical discount when they asked for one.

"A few phone calls can literally save a patient thousands of dollars," says Dr. Jeffrey Rice, who runs HealthcareBluebook.com, a website devoted to telling consumers what some of the most common medical procedures should cost.

"If you need a common test like an MRI or a colonoscopy, there may be a 300-500 percent price variation," Rise points out.

CBS News called doctors' offices across the country to see what would happen when we tried to haggle for healthcare. In Manhattan, one of our staffers got the price of an MRI on her knee down from $1,800 to $600 through haggling -- calling around and offering to pay cash.

We found the same story when we haggled for mammograms in Seattle, where even the initial price varied substantially. After some haggling, nearly all the providers we contacted offered lower prices, and we wound up with an offer of 60 percent less than we were first quoted.

Out of 16 places we called nationwide, only one refused to bargain with us.

Greibrok says talking to his doctors and haggling has not only saved him money, it's led to better health care. "I've never felt that I've compromised anything," he says, "and maybe I've gotten better care out of the education process and out of the conversations."

Still, cautions Koeppen, never make your medical decisions based solely on price. Do research and make sure your doctor or medical facility offers high quality care. The doctor you have used for years may be willing to give you a discount.

Some keys to good haggling for healthcare: Shop around, offer to pay cash, and offer to pay up front.
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