I just received yet another medical bill from a pathology office that my Dermatologist used a few months ago. After a small biopsy on one visit, and then surgery and stitches on another, I thought I had wrapped up paying off this latest round of skin cancer medical bills – but boy was I wrong. See, I had finished paying off the $700 in doctor’s bills, but not the bills for the lab that did the pathology testing and diagnoses. I had forgotten that my doctor said that those services would be billed separately! Thus, a new bill showed up the other day for $382 from these guys, and just as I was preparing to call them up and pay off the bill with my rewards credit card, I remembered something pretty important: my doctor gave me a discount on his services because I don’t have health insurance and I was paying in cash. Would the pathology organization be willing to give me a discount as well? What could it hurt to ask?
So ask I did… and I received.
My $382 bill was cut almost in half, which brought it down to a total of $197. That’s a savings of $185 just for asking a question of the woman answering the phone in the billing department. Most doctor’s offices (and obviously outside services, too) should be willing to give out discounts on medical care for cash-paying customers without insurance because when they are able to bill insurance companies, they rarely get their “set” rates. If you are lucky enough to have health insurance, take a look at your next bill/statement. On it you will see two different prices – the dollar amount that the doctor wants to get paid (his or her rate), and the amount they are going to get paid by the insurance company. There is often a rather large difference between the two, and is often the cause of a doctor raising their rates to exorbitant heights, in order to actually make some money in their practice! Many people think that doctors are rolling in dough, and while some of them are, my old primary care physician in California actually went into a private, dedicated practice where he doesn’t take insurance anymore – he couldn’t afford to pay his staff on what the companies would pay for his services. So now he has a set amount of patients who pay an annual fee directly to him for most medical care and issues, and he was able to stay in business, pay his staff well, and continue to practice the kind of medicine he wanted to. It was a win/win for his office and his patients alike. Because of this discrepancy between the set rate and the actual paid rate, doctors are usually willing to give those without insurance (like me, for now) a discount on their bill, where they can still come out ahead of what an insurance company would have paid them for the same services.
While I hope the 34 million people without health insurance in this country are able to get some relief sometime soon (I just wrote about how to get access to pre-existing insurance coverage), and it may be cheaper to go to a local clinic than a doctor’s office for less urgent care, if you are receiving and/or paying a doctor’s bill right now with cash, make sure you call up and ask for a discount. What have you got to lose? Chances are that you will see your bill significantly reduced, and in these economic times, who couldn’t use a big break on a bill?