Most people never think about negotiating fees with a doctor or other health-care provider. Negotiating is something we do with a car dealer or at a flea market. But the truth is, doctors and hospitals negotiate fees with insurance companies and the government all the time. So why not with you? If you have health insurance, you can save by negotiating such health-care fees as copayments. If you are uninsured or need a medical treatment that is not covered by your insurance, you can save even more. How to negotiate fees for health care and medical products…
Don’t be afraid to ask. Most doctors are willing to lower their fees for people with limited budgets who may not have health insurance (or only very basic coverage). But you must initiate the negotiation. My advice: If the quoted fee is more than you can pay, ask if some other payment arrangement, such as paying in monthly installments, can be made or if the fee can be lowered. What you might say: “What is the fee for this treatment/service? Unfortunately, I can’t afford that. Can we negotiate?” If you have been treated by the health-care provider for many years, mention your loyal patronage.
Talk to the right person. In a recent report published in U.S. News & World Report, a hospital’s chief financial officer (CFO) noted that it is common for hospitals to reduce charges by 30% for needy or uninsured patients who contact the CFO directly. He noted that most hospitals give large health insurers discounts of 60% or more, so deals with individual patients are still profitable to the facility. My advice: Always negotiate with a decision-maker. For fee reductions at a hospital, before you receive surgery or any other treatment, call the hospital and ask the operator to connect you to the office of the CFO or the assistant CFO—one of them must sign off on all of the hospital’s financial negotiations. At a doctor’s office, talk directly to the doctor about lower fees — not the nurse, office manager or receptionist. What you might say to a doctor or hospital CFO: “What does Medicare pay you for the service or treatment I am going to get? Will you accept the same payment from me?”
Request a discount on medical products. Several years ago, I took a friend to a hearing-aid shop, and we negotiated 40% off the lowest quoted price. Since most stores that sell hearing aids, wheelchairs and other types of durable medical equipment are privately owned, and typically mark up products by 50% to 100%, you usually can strike a good bargain with the owner. My advice: Shop around before negotiating and don’t forget to check prices on the Internet. Then start by offering 20% less than the best price you found elsewhere. Offer to pay in cash rather than by credit card or check — this saves the merchant a processing fee.
The worst that can happen if you try to negotiate a medical fee is that your request will be turned down. But chances are you’ll save a tidy sum with little effort on your part.