Want To Pay Less At The Doctor? Negotiate

Shirley Brown likes the clinic she goes to and the doctors just fine, but she doesn't just go there for the medical care. She goes there for the discounts, CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports.

And it's not a blue light, end-of-the-month-clearance kind of discount. At the Columbia Park Medical Group near Minneapolis, anyone paying cash automatically gets 10 percent off the bill. The discount makes a difference to Brown, who makes $10 an hour as a housekeeper.

"I'd rather go to a clinic where they're going to give me a 10 percent discount versus one that's not. Makes good sense to me," Brown says.

It makes sense for the doctors to cut this deal, because tens of millions of patients in America are now paying doctors out of pocket. That includes the 47 million people without insurance, plus the millions with insurance who have high-copayment or high-deductible policies.

Dr. Deborah Demarais, who helps manage the Columbia practice, says for the clinic, upfront cash is king.

"Because if they pay on the day of service, we don't have to spend the administrative cost to send them bills, follow up, etc.," Demarais says.

The truth is, doctors accept discounted fees every single day – but from insurance companies. They don't usually advertise this, but more doctors than you might imagine will also negotiate their bill directly with patients.

"Yes, you can negotiate with your doctor," says Michelle Katz.

Katz says 10 percent is just where you start. After Katz was injured in an auto accident, she negotiated a $28,000 medical bill down to less than half. That inspired her to become a medical consultant — and today, she rarely pays full price. Most doctors, she says — especially ones who know you — will give big discounts for upfront payment.

"I say 'Yes, I am paying cash' and they will give me the cash price, which is usually 50 percent of what they usually charge in the office," Katz explains.

Brown will pay in cash today because she's uninsured and has no choice. She'll need many visits to the clinic as she recovers from pneumonia, and she'll save 10 percent every time. She says it means big savings for her.

"Every little bit helps," Brown adds.

In the end, she saves on the visit, the clinic has money in the bank. And it's a glimpse of what you might you save because of the growing cash economy in medicine.

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