STUDIO CITY (KCAL9) — Healthcare Advocate Michelle Katz, LPN, MSN stopped by KCAL9 Wednesday to share some of her top affordable healthcare tips from her book "Healthcare for Less"!
Katz, who has been practicing for over 15 years, shared the following tips:
Shop around for the deals:
Medical facilities and pharmacies tend to charge different prices for the same procedure (think of it like shopping for a car). If you know the procedure you are going to the hospital for ahead of time, call the billing department/pharmacy and ask how much a procedure/medication will cost. A "stand alone clinic" such as an imaging center or a clinic does not have the overhead that a hospital does, so you might pay less for a procedure. In addition, there are apps to help you locate the best price for a procedure or medication in your area such as GoodRX. This app not only gives you the lowest price of the closest pharmacy with your medication, but gives you the option to download a coupon for an extra discount. This app also lets you know if there is a generic form of your drug that is cheaper, which can save you hundreds during your next pharmacy visit.
Know your insurance plan:
Your doctor may be covered by your insurance plan, but is the hospital covered? Is your doctor still in your insurance plan or did he/she leave the plan last month? Are the labs included such as x-rays and blood work, or will they be shipped off to another facility to be read etc.? If possible call your insurance company and ask what and who is covered before you go to a facility and document EVERYTHING from who you spoke to, the time, date and a summary of what they said. Do not assume anything is covered until you see it in your benefits packet/online or you heard it from someone at your insurance company.
Ask for an itemized bill and a copy of your medical records BEFORE leaving the hospital:
When the bills come in, you will be surprised that I can find at least 20% of billing mistakes such as wrong dates, wrong procedures, wrong medications, wrong doctors, and even wrong patients. One mistake can mean thousands of dollars, and any incorrect submission to your insurance company can leave you in charge of the entire bill if you are not careful. Ask your doctor or nurse where you can get a copy of the itemized bill as well as a copy of your medical records and he/she will probably refer you to the office manager or billing department. If these records are not ready by the time you are discharged, ask when you should expect to get them and who to contact if you do not get them.
Ask for the discount and negotiate:
If you suddenly lost your job and you find yourself in a financial bind, let your doctor know. Remember, they are human too and would rather work out a manageable payment plan for you than spend money hiring an attorney to come after you. Some facilities will accept what you can offer them at that time and write off the rest of your bill. JUST BE SURE YOU GET IT IN WRITING! This way if a bill comes to you a year later, you have documentation as to your agreement. Depending on how large the facility is, will depend on who you negotiate with...in some cases, your doctor may be your best negotiator if the facility is large. In other cases, the billing department is your best bet.
Look for discount facilities:
There are plenty of facilities that offer free to low cost medical services to those that have no health insurance or are "underinsured." These range from stand alone family clinics to dental schools that preform cleanings, extractions, oral health education or assistance in finding low cost follow-up care. You can find many of them on the CA Department of public health website.
Always ask questions:
Why am I getting this procedure, what is the procedure, is there an alternative, is there a study I can participate in? If you don't like your answer, perhaps it is time to look for another doctor that may know of a more cost effective procedure. In addition, don't waste the doctor's time, and be prepared by writing down your questions while you are waiting for the doctor ahead of time.
This does not only include eating right and exercising, but knowing your genetics; i.e. what diseases run in your family. For example, if diabetes runs in your family, you might want to take extra precautions with your diet and exercise regime. You might also want to look into a health insurance plan that supports a diabetes management/education program. for example some insurance plans provide discounts for certain gym memberships.
Ask for the free prescription sample:
Many doctors are still giving free samples of certain prescriptions. Be sure to ask politely and if he or she does not have samples available, you doctor may be able to ask the pharmaceutical representative if there are any patient assistance programs for the medications you need.
Spilt your pills:
Ask your prescribing doctor to write a prescription for the maximum dosage that you can split. For example, a 30 mg tablet may cost the same amount as the 15 mg tablet. So ask your doctor to prescribe the 30 mg tablets and split them all in half; however this will not work for capsules and time-released drugs, which should always be taken whole.
Charity Care and Patient assistance programs:
If you find yourself in a bind and cannot pay your hospital bill, ask for help. Many non-profit hospitals offer assistance to patients who are "underinsured" or uninsured.
For more information, visit Michelle Katz.
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