5 Ways to Cut Your Healthcare Bills

Simple steps that can make a big difference

Are your medical bills piling up? You’re not alone. About 79 million Americans struggle with medical debt, according to a recent Commonwealth Fund report. In 2007, nearly two-thirds of bankruptcy filings were linked to medical problems, and a whopping 78 percent of those filers had insurance, Harvard researchers found.

There are ways to cut your costs though and avoid that fate. Here’s how:

1. Know what’s covered Willful ignorance is the biggest trap consumers fall into, says Lisa Norris, co-president of the nonprofit Alliance of Claims Assistance Professionals. To avoid sticker shock, find out beforehand what an out-of-network doc charges, and what percentage of her fee your insurer will cover. Insurers assign “allowed amounts” for a service; if your out-of-network doc charges more than that, you’re responsible for the difference —plus the co-pay.

Be sure to know the cap on your coverage, too. Choosing a policy with an “unlimited cap” instead of a “lifetime cap” can prevent you from maxing out too soon, says Larry Gelb, founder and CEO of CareCounsel, a health-advocacy company in San Rafael, California. And take advantage of your plan’s preventive services, such as gym membership and smoking-cessation programs, says Michelle Katz, author of Healthcare for Less. You could save where you didn’t anticipate.

2. Scrutinize your bills Just like hotels, phone and cable companies, medical billers count on you not looking at your statement before you pay. Requesting an itemized bill and reading it with a magnifying glass could save you 20 to 40 percent on billing errors, Katz says. She typically finds at least three mistakes on hospital bills, from incorrect dates of service (leading, say, to charges for extra nights in a hospital room) to fees for medicines and physical therapy that patients never received. If you stay in the hospital, be sure to ask for your medical records before you go so you can compare them to your bill when it arrives.

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