Lowering your medical bills

FRESNO, Calif.

Higher deductibles and the portion the patient pays are taking a bigger bite than ever. Still, Consumer Reports says even in these tough times, you can lower your health-care costs by negotiating with your doctor, hospital, or other health-care provider.

The best time to negotiate is early in the process, before treatment is underway, especially if your insurance won't cover it. Start out by researching the cost of the treatment the doctor recommends. One site, healthcarebluebook.com, makes it easy to check prices on many procedures.

Once you know the average price of treatment, ask whether your doctor will lower your bill. Another strategy is to ask whether your doctor will settle for the typical discounted prices paid by insurance companies.

It's also a good idea to ask whether the tests and treatments being recommended are the only option. Many times there are less expensive options that are just as effective. Consumer Reports advises letting your doctor know that cost is a factor.

Hospital charges are also possible to negotiate. Make sure the billing department knows that you're willing to work out a payment plan. And then propose an amount and a timetable that you can manage.

You may not always be successful in haggling over medical costs, but don't be shy about asking. Consumer Reports advises settling all questions about cost before paying the medical bill. You'll have more leverage for bargaining that way.

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