1 | ASK FOR A DEAL The rate that your doctor charges isn't set in stone. According to a 2005 Harris Interactive poll, about two-thirds of adults who negotiated for lower prices with a hospital or dentist succeeded, as did three out of five adults who bargained with their doctor. If you're paying out of pocket or face a high deductible, call your insurer's customer service number and ask about the rates it pays physicians in your area, which are typically lower than the sticker price set by providers. Then ask your doctor if he'll accept a similar amount.
2 | GET THE FACTS The more you know about the real cost of your care, the better you'll be able to negotiate discounts. Costs for 30 common hospital procedures can be found at cms.hhs.gov/HealthCareConInit, the website of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or you can pay $7.95 for medical cost reports from HealthGrades, a ratings company. Large insurers like Aetna, Cigna and United Healthcare have also begun to post rates online for members, though not for every area of the country.
3 | PAY UP FRONT, IN CASH Most doctors lose thousands each year on unpaid bills and spend thousands on credit-card processing fees. If you're footing the bill, laying out the bucks in advance of treatment can get you a 10% discount on your bill, says Pam Deloney of the American Private Physicians Association.
4 | LOOK FOR MISTAKES As many as eight out of 10 hospital bills contain errors, increasing the tab by 25% on average. Keep a log of every test and medication you get, and check it against your medical file, which you can order from the hospital's billing office. If you spot an error, send a certified letter requesting a corrected bill, and a copy of all documentation to your insurer.
5 | CHECK UP BEFORE YOU CHECK IN Radiologists, anesthesiologists and other specialists don't always accept the same insurance as the doctor who admits you to the hospital. Call your doctor to get the names of the medical providers who will be involved in your treatment, and verify with your insurer that they're in the network.