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Ask how much medical care costs

You have done all the right things when looking for an affordable insurance plan to pay for your healthcare. Using a site like this, you got multiple online quotes, compared the detail of the plans on offer, and bought the plan that seemed to offer the best value-for-money. But the whole exercise was a bit abstract. No-one wants to fall ill. So it's only when bad luck strikes in the form of an accident or illness that you suddenly discover the reality of how much everything costs. Yes, that's right. Buying into the plan is not the end of shopping around. The most common ways of holding down the premium rate are policies with a high deductible, more copayments or where you pay out-of-pocket expenses. At present, about eight million people pay the maximum deductible and that number is rising. The more you have to pay, the greater the incentive you have to shop around to find the lowest cost medical services. Ironically, this puts you in the same position as the uninsured.

There is a further incentive to look carefully at prices before you buy. This is the so-called facility fee - an unexpected additional cost when the services offered by a particular doctor are provided in rooms owned by a hospital or clinic. So, in effect, you are billed by both the doctor and the hospital and, in many cases, this additional fee is not covered by your health plan. So even though you might be distracted by the fact of your injuries or illness, you have to ask in advance for the total price and whether all this price is covered by your plan. For example, there are now specialized centers offering MRI scans at significantly lower prices than hospitals where the overheads are high.

Fortunately, many doctors, clinics and hospitals are now publishing some of their prices online. Note the emphasis on some. More than 30 US states now mandate hospitals to publish their prices for basic procedures. Unfortunately, hospitals are not required to indicate the price range for each service. No hospital operates a fixed price policy. Every insurance company negotiates with each hospital and agrees a price depending on the number of likely patients to be referred under each plan. When it comes to publishing a list, the hospitals usually disclose only the highest price for each procedure. Worse, many larger operations are not consumer-oriented and resent being asked to negotiate a price with individual patients. They start with the expectation that people should be deferent and pay the prices asked without question.

In reality there is nothing to choose between health insurance and buying a meal at a restaurant. Everyone want to see a menu and the prices before they buy. This is becoming increasingly important as the recession drives up the rate of unemployment. People can no longer afford complacency. The fact of a health plan no longer insulates you from price considerations. So go online and use the search engines to find the doctors and facilities offering the lowest prices. Ask your own health insurance company which of the doctors in their networks have the lowest costs. Protect yourself against the unexpected fees and charges.


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