7 tips for negotiating medical bills

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    By Gerri Detweiler/Credit.com

    Can you imagine buying a car a piece at a time -- and trying to figure out what the total cost is? One person sells you the tires, another a steering wheel -- oh, and a specialist will give you a transmission. And you need an engine? The cost will depend on which network you're in.

    That is, of course, how health care is sometimes sold in the United States. You want to know the price of your surgery? OK, but that doesn't include the operating room, the anesthesiologist or the pathologist . . . they'll be billing you separately.

    But things are beginning to change, partly because Americans are now demanding answers. Motivated by high-deductible health plans and other health care changes, we want to know what we are paying for, and whether the services we receive are competitively priced. And the health care world is responding.

    Stephen D. Neeleman, MD, founder and vice chair of HealthEquity, which offers health care savings and spending accounts, says many consumers don't yet know how to negotiate for the best prices.

    And to understand how to work within that system, it's important to know a few things. First, hospitals may bill for about twice what they actually expect to receive, he says. Networks with negotiating power have agreements with the health care providers that allow them to pay less than the price you'll see on your bill. So the amount you are billed can depend on whether you have insurance and which network you're in. Different people pay different prices for the same service. Why can't you get the best discount? The good news is, you may be able to.

    Click ahead for some of Neeleman's tips.