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Ask Farnoosh: Best Ways to Negotiate Medical Bills

Gretchen tweets: Any suggestions or resources to learn about negotiating medical bills?

Medical bills can be intimidating, to say the least. With so many confusing line items and multiple bills arriving from a single hospital visit, it’s not always clear how costs get calculated. “There’s so much outsourcing done by hospitals and often more than one entity associated with a single visit and the resulting bill,” says health care advocate and nurse Michelle Katz. According to Katz, bills can be difficult to decipher because a single visit or procedure can have various "professional" and "technical" components. Technical charges are those associated with facilities and equipment. Professional charges are for the services of the health care professionals involved with your visit -- some inside and others outside the hospital. For a basic X-ray, for example, your bill could include multiple charges from your doctor, the radiologist and for the actual X-ray.

First, triple check your bills – especially your hospital statements. Eight out of 10 hospital bills contain errors, increasing the bills by an average 25%, according to a survey by the Medical Billing Advocates of America. To avoid getting overcharged, track all your tests, medications, and check them against your medical file which you can get from your hospital’s billing office. If you spot an error, send them a letter in writing requesting to fix the mistake and keep your insurer notified by giving them a copy of all documentation. Check for erroneous dates, as well, says Katz, another red flag that some of the calculations are wrong. Watch out for double billing, too. “If you see a charge for the same amount three or four times, often that’s the result of what I call ‘fat fingers,’” she says. 

And before a medical procedure, speak with your doctor about cost-saving alternatives or how you may be able to reduce your bill. Your physician has a fiduciary responsibility to help you meet your medical needs by not only prescribing you the right medicine, but also making sure your budgetary needs are met. “Your doctor will be your best advocate in making sure you’re handled carefully by the billing department and may be given a deal,” says Katz. And best to come into that meeting after having done a little pricing homework. “You can actually shop around in preparation for a hospital visit,” says Katz. You can find fair pricing estimates for common procedures and surgeries at HealthCareBlueBook.com. From there, ask your provider to beat or accept that rate.

Pamela writes: Dear Farnoosh, I am looking for some advice about getting the best credit cards for personal travel and almost exclusively international airfare. Do you have any advice?

Credit card experts prefer to travel overseas with a card that carries no foreign transaction fees. “It’s any international traveler’s best friend,” says Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO at CardHub.com. These cards don't levy the same 2% to 4% surcharges for transactions processed outside of the U.S., as does the other 90% of the credit-card market, he says. “Capital One and Discover have both completely eliminated foreign fees from their suite of cards, and you can find a few selections from most of the other major issuers as well,” he adds. Some of his favorites include:

- Capital One Venture Card: No foreign fees and the miles-equivalent of 2% cash back across all purchases when you redeem for anything travel-related.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: No foreign fees and a $400 statement credit for spending $3,000 during the first three months.
- Discover it Card: No foreign fees and 0% on new purchases for 14 months.

Brian Kelly of ThePointsGuy.com thinks you should consider a card that can help you transfer points to airfare, as well as hotels. For that he likes the American Express Membership Rewards card, which transfers points to 30 different partners, including airlines and hotels, as well as the Chase Sapphire Preferred with 10 different transfer partner airlines.

Click here to check current credit card offers, including rates and terms.

Got a question for Farnoosh? You can reach her on Twitter @Farnoosh or email her at farnooshfinfit@yahoo.com.

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