How to Cut the Cost of a Hospital Stay


Let's face it: No one wants to get sick or be in pain in a strange place. For this reason, going to the hospital can be an unpleasant experience. To add insult to injury, you can be faced with a huge bill once the whole ordeal is over.

Though going to the hospital may not be something you can avoid, you might be able to lessen the blow by cutting the cost of your stay. Here are some tips that could lower your final bill from the hospital. (See also: How to Handle a Massive Medical Bill)

Consult with your doctors

Before going to the hospital, ask your physician to explain, in detail, the services that will be rendered during your stay. Maria Townsend, an insurance adviser, says you should take it a step further and get this information in writing. "Get an itemized summary of treatment that will be provided during the hospital stay and send it to your insurance carrier for preapproval," she says.

You can also inform yourself ahead of time by researching the costs involved in certain medical procedures and treatments. Fair Health Consumer can help you get an estimate based on your location and whether or not you'll be going through insurance. By doing this research beforehand, when your bill comes, you can compare your initial estimate from your doctor and identify mistakes or charges that should not be on your bill.

Talk with your insurance

Once you are aware of the services your doctor is proposing and estimating, make sure every aspect of your care is covered and approved by your insurance. This alone can cut down on the prospect of a huge bill for your hospital stay.

For example, you need to know whether the physician (or anyone else) rendering services is in your insurance network. Alicia McElhaney, founder of She Spends, a money management website says, "Basically, what happens is that a hospital may be covered by your insurance, but a doctor working there may not be. As a result, you may receive bills for services from the doctor after receiving care."

If you find out that some service providers or facilities aren't covered under your insurance, ask for a list of providers and facilities that are. It might be a hassle to change doctors, but it could be a worthwhile activity that can save you a lot of money.

Shop around

If you've contacted your insurance and received a list of in-network providers and facilities, you may still want to compare prices for two or more options in your network. This can help you reduce your total out-of-pocket expense.

Another way to save money is by having lab work and X-rays done at clinics or imaging centers outside of the hospital. These services are almost always more expensive when performed in a hospital. If you are shopping these services around, clear this with your doctor first. You want to make sure that you are getting the exact diagnostic and imaging information they need to treat you effectively.

Be thrifty

There are a few money-saving methods that most people don't think about when staying in the hospital. You don't have to use every product or service that is provided to you.

For example, you can ask if the hospital will allow you to bring your own prescription or even nonprescription drugs. In some cases, you may save on both the cost of some drugs and the fee charged to administer them.

You might also be able to save on other things like meals or paper products you'll be given during your stay. The cost of even basic items like plastic baggies and tissues are inflated when passed on to patients.

Log your stay

While you are in the hospital, you should document every part of your stay. If you're not able to, ask a friend or relative to help you. Things you want to keep track of include how long you were in different places in the hospital and with whom: operating room, recovery, anesthesiologist, surgeon, etc.

You'll also want to document procedures and medications that were given to you. This way, if there are any errors on your bill, you'll have a log to help clear up errors. (See also: 6 Ways to Avoid Surprise Medical Bills)

Check your bill

Once the bill arrives, go through it with a fine-tooth comb, as medical bills sometimes contain errors. You'll want to check your bill against both your insurer's explanation of benefits and the log you kept for yourself during your hospital stay.

If things don't add up or you don't understand a charge on a bill, don't be shy about calling your insurer and the hospital. You can request an explanation or even a further break down of vague line items or anything categorized as miscellaneous.

For claims your insurance denies, follow up with the company to find out why. They should give you information on the next steps for getting your hospital stay covered. Depending on their response, you may have some recourse by following up with your doctor or appealing the decision with your insurer.

Negotiate with the hospital

It might be scary to get a hospital bill that seems larger than life, but it's not set in stone. Once the bill arrives, you can try to negotiate with the hospital a few different ways.

To begin, you can offer to pay your entire bill with cash. The hospital may also extend a discount if you pay at the time you receive the service. The hospital likely prefers cash to drawing out payments over an extended period of time or sending your account to collections for nonpayment.

The next thing you can do is ask for a payment plan. This may not technically reduce the amount of the bill, but it can reduce the blow to your pocketbook if you can't pay the entire bill at once. Plus, it doesn't hurt to ask for a discount anyway. Many times, the hospital is just happy to collect and is willing to make payment that much easier for you.

Another alternative is asking for financial assistance or charity care that could reduce your bill. There may be an application process to be eligible, but it's worth a shot if it means you don't have to pay the entire amount billed to you. (See also: 7 Ways to Negotiate Medical Bills)

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