How to Cut Your Hospital Bills
Even with health insurance, being hospitalized can cost hundreds, if not thousands,
of dollars. You may not be able to avoid a hospital stay, but you may be able to trim
If you are in a consumer-directed health plan, like a medical savings account, knowing
how to cut your costs is even more important. These plans place more responsibility
for health care decisions on your shoulders.
Before your stay
Be sure you understand your health insurance policy. Read your manual and updates
as they arrive. Ask your supervisor or employee-benefits staff to explain any rule
you find unclear. For example, you could have to pay 50% of the costs if your plan
requires pre-approval and a second opinion for surgery and you don't comply.
Find out if you have to send the bills to the insurance company yourself. Or if your
doctor's office and hospital will send them.
Ask your doctor if routine tests can be done before you're hospitalized. For example,
it may be less costly to have blood tests and chest X-rays as an outpatient.
Pay attention to check-in and checkout times. Save the cost of an extra night's stay
and ask to check in the day of your procedure, rather than the night before.
Find out if the hospital has progressive care, or step-down units. This is where healthier
patients can get a reduced level of care at a cost savings.
Get as much of your treatment pre-approved by your health plan as possible. You won't
have to fight for coverage later.
Ask your doctor to tell you of all visits by other doctors. Ask whether the visits
are required for your recovery, because you'll be billed for them. Many hospitals
use "hospitalists" now. These are doctors who only see hospital patients. Your own
doctor may never see you in the hospital. Make sure the hospital doctor knows who
Avoid weekend and holiday admissions. Unless your surgery is an emergency, you may get
less medical care but will still be billed for your room.
When you check out
Check your bill as soon as you can after you are discharged. To keep from being overcharged,
ask for a detailed, itemized invoice. You don't necessarily need to review your bill
before you leave the hospital. You may not feel well when leaving, and you shouldn't
be making financial decisions then. You will have time to dispute any questionable
Be on the lookout for:
Drugs or supplies not provided. For example, make sure you're not billed for medications
to take at home that you did not accept.
Services not provided. For example, your doctor may have ordered a test, then canceled
it. Or you may have been scheduled for 10 treatments from physical, speech or other
therapists but received only 8.
"Phantom" charges. Hospitals often bundle common procedures into packages that include
a standard set of services, all of which are billed to patients. For example, even
if you didn't use the delivery room or anesthesia when delivering a baby, the hospital
may bill you for them.
Duplicate billings for the same test or procedure.
Inconsistencies. A test that cost $50 on Monday shouldn't cost $100 on Friday.
Call the hospital billing office and ask for an adjustment for any errors. If you
have trouble resolving your complaint, talk with your insurance company, employee-benefits
department or your state's Department of Consumer Affairs.