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Your Medical Costs: Save More than Ever

With health care costs pinching the typical household by about $15,000 a year and employers trimming coverage and shifting expenses to employees, it might be time to try your own personal health care reform.

On "The Early Show" Wednesday, Business and Economics Correspondent Rebecca Jarvis explained how to negotiate your medical bills and save yourself thousands of dollars -- but still get the same services.

How do you do it? Check out her tips below.

Know the Real Cost -- So You Can Ask for a Discount
Arming yourself with price range information will give you a reasonable number to use when starting a discussion.

Where to go for that info:
NewChoiceHealth.com - Will compare highest and lowest prices. Jarvis looked into cataract eye surgery in New York. These are the prices she found on the site:

Most Expensive Cataract Eye Surgery in New York $27,400
Least Expensive Cataract Eye Surgery in New York $2,625
Potential Savings: $24,775

Ask About Going Outpatient
Some types of surgery scheduled for a hospital with an overnight stay can be performed equally well at a less expensive outpatient center. People have saved more than $5,000 just by knowing to ask the surgeon if an operation could be done at an outpatient center. Of course, your doctor may have important medical reasons for choosing a hospital setting, but it can't hurt to ask.

Don't Pay Medical Bills by Credit Card
Forgo the credit card if you think you might be asking for a discount later. Using plastic puts you in a weaker bargaining position with the hospital.

"We recommend against credit cards, because the hospital loses any interest in negotiating with you" once they have your money, says Carol Pryor, policy director at The Access Project.

And your bills could be even higher if you end up paying interest on the charges.

Inquire About a Payment Plan
If you are still facing a huge bill after negotiating a discount, ask for an interest-free payment plan. This strategy leaves you with the option to renegotiate the amount down the road, after demonstrating good faith by making timely payments. You can then write to the billing office: "I've been faithfully paying this bill for a year and half." Remind the office of the total you've paid to date, and say something like, "My family is having a tough time during this economic crisis. Will you forgive the rest of the bill?"

Find Less Expensive Insurance
Ehealthsurance.com is a site that will let you shop for insurance that meets your needs. They let you compare plans in your area, and help you determine how costly one plan may be for you versus another. Jarvis noted she used ehealthinsurance previously and has had great luck with the representatives who take your calls and walk you through the ins and outs of each plan.