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Is the Price of Being Sick Making You Sick?

  • Steve Diggs No Debt No Sweat! Financial Seminar Ministry
  • 2008 28 Jan
Is the Price of Being Sick Making You Sick?

As most of us know, spending time in the bed isn’t the worst part of being sick.  For many Americans the toughest part of health problems is paying for them. Approximately 14 percent of America’s Gross National Product each year goes to pay for healthcare. And, brother, business is good. The for-profit hospitals and drug companies aren’t in the business to be good Samaritans. They are in the healthcare business because it is highly profitable. No, I’m not for socializing our medical and care-giving apparatus. And, I am generally comfortable with many of the tenets of capitalism. But, I am also increasingly troubled by the way too many of our sickest people are not getting the care they need. 

According to a 2005 report in the journal, Health Affairs, half of bankruptcies are caused by medical costs and illnesses. While I am not fully convinced this is true (many bankruptcies that occur after medical problems can be traced to bad decisions that were made before the health troubles began) I will agree that medical costs have been the final blow for many families. This is furthered evidenced by the fact that some 75 percent of these people began their illnesses with some form of health insurance coverage. 

The trouble is, insurance rarely covers all the losses caused by a health problem.  There are deductibles, limits, exclusions — to say nothing of collateral expenses like travel, over-night stays, baby-sitting, and lost income.  ABC News reported that in 2007, the average family of four with PPO insurance coverage still spent around $5,100 per year in co-pays, premiums, and deductibles.

Below are three ideas that you might find to be effective ways to cut or avoid some of the health costs that confront many of us.

1. Shop around. Who buys a car or a house or an education without price comparing? But most of us never think about shopping for our medical products and services. Why not ask your doctor if your lab test can be run at a cheaper (equally qualified) independent lab instead of the more costly hospital lab? You might want to check with your insurance company. These days many insurance companies have price comparison tables at their web sites where you might find less expensive suppliers. Also, there are some reputable on-line pharmacies which can help you save big bucks on drugs.  If you are taking a drug on a long-term basis consider price comparing it at several of the major retailers.  Then go to some mom and pop pharmacies in your area and ask if they would give you a discount in exchange for your long-term purchases of that drug.  Always look for cheaper generic drug options.  Sometimes you need to ask your doctor to be extra thoughtful as he prescribes—to help you save money this way.  He should know if a generic will work equally well for you.  Lastly, don’t be shy.  Ask your doc if he has some drug samples to spare.  Lots of physicians receive sample from the pharmaceutical companies which can help you determine whether the drug will benefit you—before you pay for a bottle of pills.

2. Negotiate. According to a Harris Poll, in 2005, two thirds of the people who attempted to negotiate medical, dental, or hospital bills actually got reductions. (Of course, the likelihood of “getting a deal” on elective surgery is far less—as it should be.) You might ask your health insurance company (or, a friend’s) what they pay for a certain procedure.  Then personally ask your doctor if he’ll sell it to you for the same price.  After all, he wants to keep your business—it doesn’t hurt if he knows that you shop around and are price conscience.  (Note: Remember, insurance companies get discounts because they deliver a lot of volume to the providers. There may be contractual reasons that preclude your provider from giving you the same discounted pricing.)  If possible, pre-discuss and ask for a “cash in advance” discounted price.  Much of the wasted time in the medical profession is spent trying to collect bills. Look at it from their side of the fence. Which is better: To get 70 to 90 percent of the bill in advance; or have to try and collect 100 percent after the fact? The least you can do is ask. And the worst they can say is “no.”  But, what if they say “yes?” 

3. Ask lots of questions. When your doctor tells you to come back in 3 weeks, 6 months, or a year, ask, “Why?”  “A phone call may be suffice,” says Arthur Garson Jr., MD, Dean and Vice President of the University of Virginia School of Medicine and author of Health Care Half Truths:  Too Many Myths, Not Enough Reality.  When a specialist orders a test, like an MRI or an x-ray, ask your primary care physician if it’s necessary.  Seventeen percent of US adults say their doctors have ordered duplicate medical tests according to a survey by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan health care foundation in New York City.  If you’re going to get a second opinion, see if you can sign out your x-rays or MRI scans from your doctor and bring them with you. 

Of course, never do anything that jeopardizes the health care you need.  But always be a thoughtful and vigilant buyer of health care services.

Steve Diggs presents the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar at churches and other venues nationwide. Visit Steve on the Web at or call 615-834-3063. The author of several books, today Steve serves as a minister for the Antioch Church of Christ in Nashville. For 25 years he was President of the Franklin Group, Inc. Steve and Bonnie have four children whom they have home schooled. The family lives in Brentwood, Tennessee.

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