Talking Costs with Your Doc Shouldn't be Awkward

By Russell A. Amico, M.D., HealthCost Founding Partner

When it comes to most of the major purchases we make, we readily discuss and often negotiate the cost with a seller. Think, for instance, about used or new cars. We also turn to online resources to find the best deals on a whole host of purchases, from books to hotel rooms. Yet, when it comes to healthcare costs, most of us have somehow come to believe two things—the cost is what it is and it’s inappropriate, or even rude, to talk about anything related to costs with our healthcare providers. Both are inaccurate and don’t do any good.

What you pay for healthcare services⎯be it a doctor's visit, an imaging procedure or a surgery⎯can vary greatly. Two healthcare providers located on the same block may be close in proximity but miles apart in their pricing. For instance, in one American city, the cost of a diagnostic colonoscopy can range from $1,900 to over $8,000! Which would you rather pay? In some cases, you may want to pay more for an experienced surgeon. In other cases, you may want to know that a more reasonable MRI can be had at a facility a little further down the street. The key is there are choices, and you should be aware of them.

So, when pricing can vary this much, it's in our best interest to ask about it. Yet, we often don't talk costs with our doctors and other healthcare providers. We've been conditioned to think that it's somehow wrong to do so. But this just isn’t the case! Our beloved capitalistic system depends on open, free markets with transparent pricing. Besides, every consumer has the right to know just what they're paying⎯for every single thing they buy, including healthcare. None of us should hesitate or feel the least bit awkward about asking what healthcare services cost. Remember, the answer may mean keeping hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in your own pocket.

So how do you inquire about costs? Here are some tips:

  1. Clear your inhibitions. As noted above, the first step is to abolish any notion that discussing pricing is wrong. It's not!

  2. Negotiate. Before you schedule an office visit or procedure, ask about the cost. Regardless of what you’re quoted, ask if there's any "wiggle room." For instance, if you don't have insurance, can they reduce the price if you pay cash?  If you do have insurance, see if they are open to accepting whatever your insurance covers with no additional out-of-pocket costs. Remember, it can't hurt to ask.

  3. Do additional research. Don't book the appointment or procedure based on your initial conversations. Instead, tell them you'll get back after doing some price checking. This sends a signal to the healthcare provider that cost matters and you’re shopping around. Search this site, HealthCost.com, and compare prices from other providers in your area. You’ll likely be able to negotiate a lower payment than what was originally quoted.

  4. Make an informed decision. Armed with this insight, you can then choose a provider based on his or her qualifications and your budget.

Here's the bottom line: It's your health and your money. You have a right to know everything the doctor does regarding your health. And you have every right to know what caring for yourself or a loved one is going to cost.

So, ask away.


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