Why do uninsured patients pay more for doctor visits?
Aside from not having health insurance, it’s because they don’t know the system. Uninsured patients don’t know that everyone else is getting a discount. From Medicare to Medicaid, from HMOs to PPOs, every group is getting a discount EXCEPT for the uninsured. Discounts are given in order to generate more business.
To the uninsured this doesn’t seem fair. But it is possible to pay less.
Here are 5 proven tips to save money on office visits:
1. Speak up. It’s unlikely your doctor is keeping track of your financial situation. You are the one to make your physician aware that you lack health insurance. Ask the doctor (or nurse, or receptionist, or patient accounts department) if a discount is available for uninsured patients. Ask if they’ll accept a little less. If your doctor agrees, make sure to keep your part of the agreement. (And don’t forget to say thanks.)
2. Ask for a billing discount. It costs time and money to generate a monthly bill. If you pay at the time of your visit, it is appropriate to ask for a billing discount. Even if it’s only $5, that’s enough for a meal.
3. Spend your money wisely. Convince your doctor that you are handling your money responsibly, then ask for a one-time discount until your finances are back in shape. Develop a habit of paying for necessities before indulging in luxuries. If you can’t afford to take care of yourself (as in paying the doctor), can you afford to buy tobacco or alcohol or lottery tickets? Is it reasonable to request a discount because you spent $300 on your pet? (This does happen, more often than you’d think.) Doctors want to help patients who help themselves, so start by doing your part.
4. Ask for a discount on lab tests. The retail “mark-up” on lab tests is significant. Just as fast-food chains have a higher profit margin on soft drinks than hamburgers, so too, medical practices often make more on laboratory testing than on physician services. The good news is that this allows room for discounts. But it’s unlikely that a discount will be automatically offered – again, you’ll need to speak up.
5. Organize your thoughts and goals ahead of time. Often patients don’t realize that doctors charge for their time. A long office visit costs more than a short one. Don’t try to “get your money’s worth” by dredging up every problem you can think of – it may well backfire. Ask the receptionist what the price is for office visits of varying lengths, then plan accordingly. Mention to your doctor at the beginning of your appointment that you’d like to limit your expense by optimizing your time with him or her.
Try these ideas out the next time you visit your physician. Hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Copyright 2010 Cynthia J Koelker MD