This article, written by Kate Hanley, was originally published on Women & Co.
When I had my first child, I was a healthcare rookie, and our medical bills reflected it. Instead of having the 20-week ultrasound in a doctor’s office — where it would have been covered 100 percent — we scheduled it at a local hospital, where it was subject to deductible and co-insurance. That misstep alone cost us $1,200. (There were more.)
When you’re dealing with a healthcare situation that requires a long-term treatment plan, you have plenty of things on your mind besides money. But if you think you can just show up at the doctor’s office and trust that it will work out with your insurance, you’re likely in for an unpleasant surprise when the bills start rolling in.
In honor of World Health Day, which happens each year on April 7 (the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization), here are four tips for taking charge of your healthcare choices and their accompanying expenses.
1. Take the long view.
While a health crisis can be overwhelming, it may help to relate it to something you’ve already experienced that’s a little less fraught. “Treat your illness the same way you might treat a house renovation,” suggests Melissa E. Clarke, MD, a Harvard-educated physician, patient advocate, and author of Excuse Me, Doctor! I’ve Got What?, a book that helps consumers make educated healthcare decisions. Meaning, you want to get a basic idea of how much everything you plan to do costs, you want to get multiple quotes, and you want to make sure you feel good about the providers you select.
2. Research the cost of each procedure.
Find out as much as you can about how much each treatment costs and the time frame associated with it. Armed with that knowledge, you can then research additional insurance coverage or explore other options for financing your healthcare. The best way to get started is to speak to the person who handles the billing at your provider’s office. You can also use websites such as Healthcarebluebook.com and Outofpocket.com. Keep in mind that your provider, the facility where the service is performed (if it’s anywhere other than your provider’s office), and any labs involved will likely each bill you separately, so you’ll probably have to make at least a handful of calls to get the full price picture.
3. Enlist technology to keep on top of payments.
Direct as much of your time and energy as you can toward healing, rather than paper chasing. Online resources like Citi ® Financial Tools help you analyze your expenses and create a budget so that you can implement a plan for managing your healthcare costs. Citi’s Money Tracker, for example, shows you a clear picture of your cash flow (expenses and income), while the Bill Reminder helps you stay on top of due dates.
4. Call your insurance company.
Don’t wait until your doctor submits bills on your behalf to find out what’s covered and what’s not. A call to your insurance provider will answer that question, as well as how much of your deductible still has to be met and how you can avoid extra fees. Also, if you have a chronic condition — such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer — your insurance provider likely can advise you on how to make the most of your treatment by, for example, using health coaches or case managers (at little additional, or reduced, cost). “Remember,” says Clarke, “it’s in the insurance company’s best financial interest for you to be as healthy as possible.”
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