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Demystifying Healthcare Costs – Part 3 of 3: How To Eliminate Surprise Medical Bills

Being able to afford healthcare in America is quickly becoming more and more of a luxury. With the rising costs of insurance premiums and doctor visits, it’s no surprise that nearly 20% of us cannot afford the care we need.

Although the changes in the health insurance landscape over the last decade have tried to make things more affordable, we still have a long way to go. Last year, Forbes magazine released very specific data examining the details of various ACA plans and came to the conclusion that even those who are middle class cannot afford these supposedly ‘affordable’ plans.

As we’ve learned in part 1 of our three part series on Demystifying Healthcare Costs, it’s often impossible to plan ahead for these expenses when your own doctor doesn’t even know what they charge. Additionally, receiving a medical bill that’s far greater than you can afford brings the time-consuming task of trying to negotiate down the price. For a range of suggestions about how to negotiate your bills and check for errors, be sure to read part 2 of this three-part series. 

In part 3 of this series, we uncover a variety of tools you can use to stay one step ahead of your medical costs. The adage that ‘time is money’ is certainly true, but when you spend just an hour or two researching costs in advance, you can save yourself hundreds, even thousands. We’ll review a few websites that provide pricing transparency for services in your area. We’ll even review a website that lets you negotiate and agree upon a price before you even see your provider. Ready to save? Read on.

 

The Old Fashioned Way 

It goes without saying that you can’t research prices ahead of time when it comes to an unplanned injuries and health conditions. But for more routine types of care, there is a bit of planning that can help you budget accordingly. Although it has been discussed in great detail in part 1 of our three-part series that most physicians cannot estimate the cost of medical care, that’s not always 100% the case. For example, if you were to call three of your local dental offices and ask how much they charge a cash paying client for a routine cleaning and exam, there’s a good chance each one can quote you a pretty accurate number. However, for more complex procedures or visits, providers are likely unable to give you an accurate quote.

While this old-fashioned way of planning ahead may be useful for routine visits, there are a number of new websites that can help you not only get the best deal for routine visits, but also for more complicated services like foot surgery!

 

Using Search Tools

Because trying to plan for healthcare is becoming such a major issue among today’s Americans, some companies are trying to add a little bit of transparency to the marketplace. Healthcare Bluebook and Amino are both companies that aggregate medical billing data to give you a fairly accurate idea of how much you should expect to pay for a certain healthcare service. They even provide information on what specific providers and facilities charge for a given service.

Since the listed pricing information is based off of the aggregation of billing data, you won’t necessarily get an accurate quote. However, by using these tools, you can get a sense for what is a fair price and what an outrageous one is for a given service.

 

Setting Your Own Price

While search tools like Healthcare Bluebook and Amino may be useful in gauging price ranges, there is a website that actually allows you to agree upon a rate in advance with your provider. When you agree on a rate and pay in advance, you no longer have to play the guessing game which could result in some pretty hefty surprise medical bills.

Slingshot Health is a marketplace for patients to bid for healthcare services and for healthcare providers to fill open appointment slots. With Slingshot Health, you just tell us what you need, your availability, and how much you’d like to pay. When you book an appointment using Slingshot’s online platform, you know the cost of the appointment at the outset and have immediate access to available appointments. In many cases, providers are able to offer their services to you at a relative discount in the same way hotels offer discounts to fill last-minute vacancies.

Think back to our example of calling around to local dentists to inquire about the cost of a cleaning. If everyone tells you it will be at least $200 but you don’t have that kind of money, you may decide to just skip a cleaning. Yet with Slingshot Health, you can let providers know that you are only willing to pay $75 for a cleaning.

If you have health insurance, Slingshot Health can still offer you a wealth of savings. Many of today’s plans have very high deductibles in order for them to have affordable monthly premiums. When consumers have high deductible health plans, they are often left paying for most of their healthcare out-of-pocket before their coverage even kicks in. For the average individual with a high deductible health plan, their deductible can be a few thousand dollars. Young healthy individuals will likely never hit their deductibles, except in the event of a catastrophic accident. Those who are in this conundrum often find that paying cash through Slingshot Health for their medical care can be cheaper than trying to use their insurance. This is because they are able to negotiate lower rates through Slingshot Health but not their insurance company.

In 2015 alone, the Kaiser Family Foundation determined that 1 million adults declared bankruptcy due to unforeseen medical bills. Don’t let that happen to you – set your own price and pay less overall by using Slingshot Health.