Comparison-shopping is the American way of life, except when it comes to understanding the prices for medications and medical procedures. In fact, health care is one of the few services where consumers have no idea what their final charges will be before the services are rendered. Whether you have insurance or not the lack of transparency in how charges are arrived at does cost you and healthcare system money.
People with insurance tend to concentrate on their co-pays and deductibles with little thought as to the actual charge for the procedure. Other insured patients have high deductible policies can wind up paying crushing out-of-pocket medical bills. Even healthcare consumers with good insurance may be able to find lower prescription drug prices by shopping around and paying cash.
Healthcare data regarding costs are now becoming more widely available so that patients can more easily research the cost of health care and possibly save money as well. This kind of research, done on your own, can be very difficult. But, websites have recently come online to make your research easy. Today I am going to discuss four websites that exist to help you save on medical care expenses. While all sites listed below are free, some require that you sign up for a free membership.
New Choice Health
The New Choice Health website has a simple signup form and charges nothing for its service. Based upon the zip code you enter in the search engine, you receive a range of prices for medications and procedures in your area. If your insurance company allows you free choice of physician and facility, this information is valuable to keep your copays as low as possible. For instance, in Sacramento, California an abdominal ultrasound can cost between $849 and $3,280.These of course are master charges but New Choice Health also reveals what insurance pays to each provider making your choice of provider that much easy. The insurance information is by carrier and not an aggregate number. This allows the consumer to choose the provider with the best price for their insurance; this translates to the lowest co-pay.
Cash paying consumers can use the information to negotiate with a provider. Surprisingly, many health care facilities will negotiate to an insurance fee, though Medicare and Medicaid are generally off the table. But, a consumer can offer Medicare + 15 percent and just might get it or a sweet counter offer. Health care providers negotiate all the time with insurance companies, they are not offended by the suggestion, but the consumer must ask.
This website does not calculate prices for procedures. Instead, it maintains a growing database that sorts by procedure and zip code for all procedures. The information is obtained from government databases, other public databases such as the state exchanges that are starting to come on line, insurance databases, and master charge lists. Actually, the only real database on OutofPocket.com is all the links to external sites with the needed information. It is not the most elegant way to perform a search and looking up a specific procedure takes time. The information is worth it as you find out what the charge is for insurance companies, what insurance companies pay and the Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates for a selected procedure with a selected zip code.
Folks who have to make co-pays or pay deductibles can find the provider where the percentages are lower as the price is lower. To date, there is no correlation between high price and high quality. Medical procedure charges seem to be conjured up in a forest setting, under a full moon at midnight. It is thought that owls and toads may play a significant part in rate setting.
Keeping that thought in mind, it does not hurt to check the physician’s credentials and the facility.
NeedyMeds is a site devoted to providing assistance to people who cannot afford their medications or health care. Primarily a site for those without insurance, it explains by prescription drug – brand and generic what assistance programs exist for those in need.
It also has a database it calls DBA – Disease Based Assistance. These are foundations, associations and societies that specialize in helping those with a particular diagnosis get help with drugs and other medical services.
The site also provides a downloadable drug discount card that can be used by anyone. Sometimes, using the discount card is less expensive than a copay. Speak to your pharmacist about this to make sure it is allowable.
If you want to know which pharmacy near your home or office has your prescription for the least cost, visit GoodRx. They do the comparison-shopping for you. Moreover, when you are searching for a particular drug they will dispense any coupon or offer to you for printing. Finally, GoodRx also offers a free drug discount card. Users claim they have saved quite a bit using the site.