How to make sense of your medical bills

Bill-paying is one of the not-so-fun aspects of being a grown-up.

By 2014, the federal health care reform bill will require everyone living in America to have medical insurance. Whether you decide to wait until the last minute or overhaul your coverage now, you’ll need to untangle the hoopla to make the best financial choice.

“It’s a complicated system, and it’s important for people to understand their options,” says Ankeny Minoux, president of San Jose-based non-profit Foundation for Health Coverage Education. “It might get simpler when the new regulations come into effect. Until 2014, each state has their own rules.”
The FHCE works with individuals to help save on premiums or deductibles as appropriate. “The reason we set up this foundation is that the system puts people through the ringer. We can tell you the rules.”

Some good news for the uninsured: An illness or accident doesn’t leave you completely powerless at the hospital. Believe it or not, you can haggle.

“Don’t hesitate to negotiate your bill with doctors or hospitals, and for labs or X-rays,” says Mark Melrose, DO, FACEP, co-founder of Urgent Care Manhattan. “Everyone loves cash, and practice managers will often discount fees or work out payment plans [for] cash payments, especially if you ask in advance.”

Save money!

Dr. Melrose offers the following tips:
   
Don’t wait to go to the ER. If an illness becomes worse, treatment may become more complicated and your hospital stay will lengthen. The bill will be bigger, and you’ll miss more work.
   
Health insurance companies now allow adult children to remain on parents’ policies until age 26.
   
Health care professional schools (medical, dental, podiatry, etc.) or teaching hospitals sometimes have general clinics and/or specialty clinics that often provide care at discounted or sliding scale rates.  
   
Schedule elective but necessary health screenings and procedures before the end of the year. If your deductible has been met, you won’t be charged out-of-pocket once the new insurance year starts in January.


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