No Health Insurance?

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photo credit: Unsplash/Jamie Street

How to Get the Best Deal on Health Care

You wake up sick, but you don’t have health insurance. What do you do? You could go to an urgent care center, but they can’t treat everything. You could wait out your illness and hope it will get better on its own, but what if it is serious?

What you may not know is that many doctors offer uninsured rates, which can reduce your bill significantly. In a study from Johns Hopkins University, uninsured patients got appointments with primary care physicians for an average of $160, with only 6 percent turned down because of their lack of insurance. Even though $160 is still a lot of money, there are ways to further cut costs if you know what to ask for.

Urgent Care or Emergency Room?

Hospital emergency rooms are by far the most expensive type of care. They often charge a facility fee just for walking in the door that can be up to $500. So you should only go to the ER for life-threatening symptoms such as severe trauma from an accident, serious difficulty breathing, chest pains and other major issues.

Urgent care centers usually can treat minor cuts, strains and sprains. They also can handle fever, flu and rashes. The typical cost for an urgent care visit is about $150. The upside is that these centers often are open 24/7. The downside comes if they tell you that you need to go to the ER anyway, or to a specialist. Sometimes they will refund your money if they have to refer you elsewhere, but there’s no guarantee, and uninsured patients might be required to pay in cash.

Finding a Doctor

If you decide you need a doctor, call several offices to discuss their rates for uninsured patients. This can give you leverage for negotiation. The Johns Hopkins study found that the doctors offering the lowest rates tended to be in low-income zip codes or federally qualified health centers.

Labs and Tests

Sometimes the appointment isn’t your only cost. From blood work to strep tests, sending your biological data to a lab can come with a huge price tag. Ask the doctor if they can send your lab work to a cheaper option. If you have to go to a separate outpatient facility or specialist, ask if they offer patient assistance programs, which can reduce your costs or even make your lab work free.

Talk to the Doctor

Often doctor’s assistants are tasked with billing, processing payments and dealing with insurance companies. They may be too busy to work on getting you the best deal.

Talk to your doctor at your appointment and tell him or her what you’re reasonably able to pay. The doctor may be more selective about what tests and services to suggest. If a certain test or follow-up is necessary, they may be able to offer a discounted rate. Ask to get the payment terms in writing if possible.

Get on a Payment Plan

Always ask about payment plans. Many hospitals and community health centers will allow you to spread your payments out over time rather than paying all at once. Talk to anyone in the process who might be able to help you get a deal. They can’t help you unless they know that you need help, and often local communities or states have programs to assist the uninsured in finding reduced rates.

Knowing that you have options is the first step to cutting your doctor’s bills while getting the medical care you need. As always, we have your back.

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