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

Your financial situation is part of your total health picture, and it's important to make your health care providers aware of it.
Written by Denise Amrich, Contributor

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, Catholic.org, 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!

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