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8 Surprising Ways To Save Thousands On Your Medical Bill

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8 Surprising Ways To Save Thousands On Your Medical Bill

Last summer, I got stung by a stingray. It hurt like hell. But you know what stung even more? My $1,800 hospital bill.

I thought I did everything right. I soaked my foot. I cleaned and bandaged the wound. But a week later, my foot was infected. It swelled so much, I couldn't fit it in my shoe.

So I called my doctor for a same-day appointment. She prescribed me antibiotics, but she was worried the swelling would cut off circulation to my toes. (I know. Gross.) She wanted a specialist to look at my foot. So I went to the ER.

That was my big mistake.

Two weeks later, I was billed $1,800 for an X-ray, a 30-minute stay in a hospital bed (in the hallway!), and the same diagnosis that my doctor had given me.

Turns out, my infection wasn't really an emergency, and I had other options for care. You have options, too! Your hard-earned money should not be wasted on outrageous medical bills. Follow these steps to save thousands of dollars on your next medical bill.

1) Get Insured

Insurance companies won't pay for all of your medical expenses. But they'll cover the majority of the costs. If you don't have insurance, you're completely unprotected. You'll have to pay 100% of every medical service you need.

2) Avoid The ER

Unless your injury is a true emergency, skip the ER. Hospitals have to prioritize patients with the most life-threatening conditions -- even if those patients arrive hours after you. If your illness or injury doesn't need immediate attention, you'll have a long, painful wait.

Plus, hospital copays run from $125 to $200. Even after you've paid the copay, you'll be charged for your hospital bed, doctor consultation, lab test, surgery, medication, or any other service you receive.

3) Call Your Doctor

Your doctor's office can connect you to triage nurses who can walk you through your symptoms. If the nurse thinks you need medical attention, they'll make you an appointment to see the first available doctor. Then, once you see a doctor, you're only responsible for the $10 to $30 copay. See, in just three steps, you've already saved a couple thousand!

4) Try Urgent Care

Need a doctor after hours? Need stitches, an X-ray, a lab test, or another service your primary doctor can't offer? Head to urgent care. These facilities charge much less for injuries or illnesses that aren't life-threatening, like:

  • Fevers
  • Sprains or strains
  • Allergic reactions
  • Animal bites
  • Minor headaches
  • Skin rashes
  • Infections
  • Cuts
  • And more

To get a second opinion about my foot infection, I could have gone to urgent care instead of the ER. My copay would have cost $45 (instead of $150), and I would have been charged $1,200 less for the other services.

If You Decide To Go To The ER...

5) Don't Take An Ambulance

Get a ride. Call a cab. Walk. Unless your life (or limb) is in immediate danger, don't call 911. Getting to a hospital on your own could save you $800 to $1,800 on your bill.

6) Find Out The Sticker Price

Healthcare is big business. Because each hospital sets its own prices, the same service can vary by tens of thousands of dollars between hospitals.

That means an MRI, broken leg, or overnight stay at Hospital A could cost 10 times as much at Hospital B -- even if the two facilities are a mile apart!

So, do your research before your next emergency. Look up the cost for services you might need in the future. A little research will help you decide which ER to visit in case of an actual emergency.

7) Stay In Network

Your insurance plan has a contract with a network of hospitals, urgent care centers, and other medical facilities. This contract allows your insurer to land major discounts on services, and then pass the savings onto you.

Find out which hospitals (and urgent care centers) are in your plan's network. If you go to a medical facility outside that network, you could be charged a much higher price for the exact same service.

8) Prepare To Negotiate

Just because you got ripped off by the hospital doesn't mean you have to pay your entire bill. Call your insurance company, and ask an agent to talk to the hospital on your behalf. (You'll have more leeway when you have an insurance rep backing you up.) Tell the hospital that you refuse to pay the entire bill, but you're willing to pay upfront if they give you a discount.

You might not win the negotiation, but it's worth a shot. The hospital just wants you to pay up. They'd rather have you settle your dues now than risk losing part of the profits if you let your bill go to collections.

Don't Go Bankrupt Paying Your Medical Bill

Going to the ER gave me peace of mind knowing my foot wasn't going to fall off. But it also almost gave me a three-month headache trying to negotiate my outrageous hospital bill.

Don't waste your hard-earned money on overpriced medical expenses. Instead, find a cheap health plan that covers your needs. With the right coverage, your next emergency won't come close to breaking the bank.

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Monday, January 11, 2016