For the first time the federal government released hospital-specific charges for hospitals that “receive Medicare Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) payments for the top 100 most frequently billed discharges," allowing the public to see what some of the most common procedures cost at different hospitals around the nation.
This is part of the Obama administration’s work to make the U.S. health care system more affordable, accountable, and transparent. Until recently charges weren’t disclosed publicly and were kept by facilities that saw a competitive advantage in protecting their fees from competitors. The released numbers reveal huge discrepancies and random variations in the health care system costs of services.
For example, when we compare the costs of two hospitals located within 500 feet of each other in Miami, we see major differences in charges. At the University of Miami Hospital, the average cost of a heart attack with four stents and major complications is $166,174 and the average reimbursement is $27,397. At the Jackson Memorial Hospital the average cost for the same case is $89,027 and the average reimbursement is $33,129.
In downtown New York City, two hospitals 63 blocks apart varied by 321% in the prices they charged to treat complicated cases of asthma and bronchitis. One hospital charged an average of $34,310, while the other one billed on average $8,159.
For joint replacements, which are the most common hospital procedure for Medicare patients, prices varied from $5,304 in Ada, Oklahoma, to $223,373 in Monterey Park, California. The average charge across the 427,207 Medicare patients’ joint replacements was $52,063.
With all that in mind, here are few ways to help you save money on your medical expenses without having to sacrifice quality — hopefully you’ll rarely need a hospital trip and will always stay fit and healthy!
1. It doesn’t hurt to ask for a price break.
Each hospital, doctor, or other health provider has its own rules regarding bills negotiations. Groups such as the Patient Advocate Foundation will negotiate on your behalf, sometimes for free.
2. Choose the appropriate facility.
ER visits tend to cost more compared with an urgent-care center, a doctor’s office, or a convenience-care clinic. If you’re insured, it’s useful to call your insurer’s 24-hour advice hotline for guidance on where to go for care and make sure that the facility and provider are in your health plan’s network.
3. Use online tools to compare how much providers charge.
One way is to check out the government’s data on hospital charges or the Washington Post analysis of how much providers charge in your state. Websites like FAIR Health, New Choice Health, and Healthcare Blue Book tell you the insurance-paid rates in your region.
4. Compare test prices.
Free-standing imaging centers tend to be cheaper than hospitals. Calculate the cost of routine care. MinuteClinic is a walk-in medical clinic located in CVS Pharmacy stores that provides treatment for common family illnesses and injuries, administers vaccinations, conducts physicals and wellness screenings, and offers monitoring for chronic conditions for insured and uninsured individuals.
5. Save on prescription drugs.
You could check with your doctor to see if you can switch to generic drugs, which tend to cost 30 to 60% less than brand-name equivalents.
6. Prevention is better than cure.
Go to your annual mammograms and pap tests, plus regular screenings for colorectal and prostate cancer. Embrace a healthy lifestyle by exercising, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, quitting smoking, and drinking responsibly.
7. Review your bill and pay in cash when possible.
Make sure you’re charged the proper amount. Just by offering to pay upfront and in cash you might save up to 30% off the cost of an appointment as it reduces paperwork and financial uncertainties.
8. No insurance? Look for free or pay-as-you-can sources for health care.
Seek government care and investigate state departments of public health and federally qualified health centers. Look for help in a free-care clearinghouse through the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. Look for local chapters of the YMCA that sponsor free screenings and Planned Parenthood. There are a few supermarkets that offer certain medications freely like Top Food & Drug, Meijer, and Publix. If your income is very tight you might be able to get free medication through NeedyMeds, the Bureau of Prescription Help, the Chronic Disease Fund, and the Partnership for Prescription Assistance.
9. In few minor cases you could use “Dr. Google,” but proceed with care as this is not a substitute for seeking professional consultation.