Think you’re doing all you can to reduce costs when you need medical help? Believe it or not, you can save even more just by asking the following four questions.
1. Can this be treated by teledoc?
Not sure if your symptoms warrant a visit to an urgent care clinic, or even the ER? Ask, “Can a teledoc diagnose and treat me remotely?” You can save hundreds of dollars and hours of wait time — plus avoid exposure to germs — by “seeing” a doctor via live video chat or phone call. They can assess your symptoms, order tests, provide prescriptions, and advise whether it’s best for you to get treated at an urgent-care clinic or hospital or ride it out at home. Most insurance plans offer access to teledoc services and cover most, if not all, of the cost. No insurance? You can pay a flat fee starting at $49 at Teladoc.com or 800-TEL-ADOC.
2. Is this a freestanding emergency room?
Have a medical issue that needs to be addressed in person, like needing an X-ray of your wrist after taking a tumble? Before you head to an urgent care, call them and ask, “Is this a ‘freestanding emergency room?’” These health facilities look like urgent-care clinics, and provide similar care, but are actually mini-ERs — and as such, they can charge up to 22 times what a doctor would charge, and up to 19 times what an urgent-care clinic charges. That can turn a $160 bill into a $3,000 one, so asking this question in advance can save you thousands.
3. Is everyone involved in my care in-network?
One study found that one in five patients receives a surprise bill for an out-of-network provider (like an anesthesiologist) at an average of $2,011 and as high as $19,000! So before you get X-rays, tests, or medical procedures, it’s worth asking, “Is everyone involved in my care in-network?”
“Out-of-network providers can ask for more than the rate agreed upon by your insurer, then charge you the balance,” says Carolyn McClanahan, M.D., an ER physician turned financial planner. Her tip: Writing “No out-of-network providers” on admission forms will help you fight these fees if you do get them.
4. Is this the lowest price I can get?
Studies show that thousands of prescription medication prices soared by 10 percent in 2019, and others spiked by 100 percent or more. So when filling a prescription, ask the pharmacist, “Is this the lowest price available?” He or she may be aware of ways you can save, but they don’t have to tell you unless you ask. They may advise you to pay out of pocket, since many commonly used drugs cost less than your copay. Or they’ll tell you about programs (like ones found at RxAssist.org) that help cover the cost of your meds via coupons or copay assistance.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.