How talking about money with your doctor could save you big bucks, or even your life

How talking about money with your doctor could save you big bucks, or even your life

Summary: Your financial situation is part of your total health picture, and it's important to make your health care providers aware of it.


Image courtesy of Flickr user buddawiggi.

I have this friend who has a unique shopping technique. Whenever he's presented with a price, particularly for something expensive, he asks, "Can you cut me a break on that?"

As he tells it, he never demands a deal, but a surprisingly large percentage of the time, the person he's purchasing from -- whether a small business owner or the cashier at a chain store -- will discount his purchase anywhere from 5-25%. Over the years, he estimates that he's probably saved thousands of dollars, all without any sort of stress or pressure to get the deal.

Of course, he'd probably never consider asking his doctor to cut him a break on pricing. After all, my friend probably has no idea what most of his medical care costs. He presents his little blue card and his needs are taken care of. Once in a while, he gets a big bill, and like a good citizen, he just pays it.

But more and more of us are having a harder and harder time just paying our medical bills. This problem has reached the attention of Consumer Reports, who is now recommending talking about money with your medical practitioners.

According to an interview in NPR's Shots with Dr. John Santa (yep, that's his name), head of Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, most medical practitioners may not want to haggle, but they do want to know that you can't afford the treatment they've prescribed.

This sort of back-and-forth practical discussion becomes more and more important in today's society.

Recently, an unlikely journalistic source,, reported that one Kyle Willis -- a 24-year-old man -- died of a toothache. He was prescribed pain killers and an antibiotic, but since the pain was extreme and he couldn't afford to take both medications, he took the pain killers and didn't treat the infection. He died. Had he explained his financial situation, his dentist might have found an alternate treatment, or, at the very least, stressed the life-saving importance of taking a course of antibiotics.

Finally, there is a tech angle, in that we all pay for our health care and insurance. It might not come directly out of our pockets, but our employers are constantly dealing with increased costs. Insurance companies are always trying to raise rates, and so it's more important than ever that your company shop around for the best deals.

Good luck and stay healthy!

Topics: Legal, CXO, Health, IT Employment


Denise Amrich is a Registered Nurse, the health care advisor for the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, and a mentor for the Virtual Campus at Florida's Brevard Community College.

Nothing in this article is meant to be a substitute for medical advice, and shouldn't be considered as such. If you are in need of medical help, please see your doctor.

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  • Finding medical bill savings fast easy and free

    There are many resources available to patients to help them find ways to save money. A new one is, where you can take a photo of your bill, submit it and a panel of experts will find you money-savings. It's fast free and secure and just for trying you also get a $10 gift card.
  • How about a National Health Service

    It is too like socialism for Americans to adopt a sane health service. Through taxes I pay about half as much as Americans and get health care free at all times. If I was working, I would only have to pay about $10 for each prescription as a co-payment. This is rather less than the $100-?1000 or so that Americans pay with co-payments for everything. There is no charge for doctor's appointments or hospital care. Like the US system it is not perfect but life spans are greater in UK than US. I can still buy extra care if I think I need it but at the age of 82 that problem has not yet arisen.
  • Good luck finding out what stuff costs ahead of time

    You go into a doc-in-a-box place (Doctor's Care, or Nason's Medical Center, or whatever) with symptoms. They take you from the exam room to x-ray down the hall, and send the results out to be reviewed overseas. They also send your specimens to labs to be processed. But good luck finding out ahead of time what each of those will cost. That's been the most frustrating part of trying to be a "good consumer" with my health dollars. Nobody can tell me what stuff will cost, because there are too many different entities providing care.
    • RE: How talking about money with your doctor could save you big bucks, or even your life

      You don't really need toknow ahead of time in my experience. It's likely you'll have to have the treatment anyway and there is plenty of time after the fact, before and for several or a couple weeks aftr you get the blll, to do those thinigs to save yourself the favor of helping the cost.
      Also, you wouldn't really need to know the costs ahead of time; there's nothing wrong with askiing when you know you have no or very little money to pay them. have insurance but have established a good rapport with all my doctors; I never
      1. Have to wait long, get let in the back way because of my problems, and
      2. Never got charged for copays and my last hospital visit for a necrotic problem and surgical removal was heavily assisted by statements right on the bills for everything but anesthesia, which I had to write letters for and "won". I think it's like a crap-shoot; it depends on the doctors. For instance, two of mine don't accept new patients any longer but still care for those who were originally using them before they stopped taking new patients.
  • RE: How talking about money with your doctor could save you big bucks, or even your life

    Couldn't the article have a little more substance? That's it? Either a) Ask for a discount or b) Tell him you can't afford it?

    How about providing some resources where people can compare procedure and drug costs to see if the prices quoted are in line? Or, perhaps, providing links to patient advocacy groups who might provide assistance in locating alternate, lower-cost options?
    • RE: How talking about money with your doctor could save you big bucks, or even your life

      Advocacy groups and ombudsman groups do exist in almost all states. Check your phone book.
  • RE: How talking about money with your doctor could save you big bucks, or even your life

    The Medical Industrial Complex is out of control in this country and bankrupting us all.
    • RE: How talking about money with your doctor could save you big bucks, or even your life

      How so?
  • For a minute I didn't understand the title: I live in Canada

    I really hope for your own good that the USA realizes that a healthy population is a happy and productive one and that the greed the doctors and pharmaceuticals show is beyond pale.

    I understand private practice, but there should be room for social medicine.

    Can you imagine if public health was treated like public transit? Not everyone can afford a car, but with public transit everyone has an affordable way to get from place to place. Not as comfortable but possible.
  • Transparency needed

    Trying to be a good consumer in the healthcare space is near impossible given the lack of information available.

    The days of doctors and insurance companies lining their pockets with money are over. The industry has dug a hole for itself and is falling into it.

    There should be one place to go to drill down on as many details as necessary so that the consumer understands both what they paid and what they received. It would seem that the insurance providers are the ones with the most data and could provide it.
  • It does work

    A few years back I was out of work and didn't have health insurance or a regular doctor who would see me. Finally after a few weeks of a lingering prostate infection, I went to the hospital ER (I couldn't find a clinic). The doctor spent about 15 minutes total on me between a cursory exam and looking over my records, and they did one urine test. After that, I got a prescription for a generic antibiotic costing a few bucks. The total cost? $1200.

    I called up the hospital and talked to their customer ombudsman. After explaining that I thought the costs were too excessive, they finally brought the total bill down to $600. About $300 of that was for the ER doc, who was an independent contractor to the hospital and who wouldn't bring his prices down ($1200 an hour!!!).
    • RE: How talking about money with your doctor could save you big bucks, or even your life

      That s a definite problem in many places. For me it was anesthesis with the wall. They don't however, like newspaper opinions about the stuation as long as you keep them factual and free of any personal vendetta's. I also contacted the AMA and they followed up to see what the results were. ANYthing contracted to a hospital, especially rural, is extremely expensvive; zero competition and no oversight, for the most part.
  • Health insurance

    Usually, with most insurance today, the amount the insurer pays the docs is already agreed upon. If you have insurance B, then it doesn't matter which doctor you go to, insurance B will pay the same. Only thing you can shop around is the health insurance check "Penny Health" for health insurance ideas to save money.
  • My insurance

    I pay maximum $150 a year for seeing a doctor or hospital. I pay about $2 a day if I have to be in a hospital clinic for a day. And I pay maximum $150 a year for medicine.<br>I think that is ok.
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