The prices of things are going up again (they call it inflation), but probably in no other area of industry is the inflation rate going up relentlessly year after year in the region of 10-15%. Take a look here:
The way things are going, this cartoon may not be that funny at all:
Here’s my tips on how you can cut your healthcare costs (short of not receiving any!):
There may be economic recession, but healthcare inflation goes on unbridled, with annual inflationary rates in excess of 10%! Often, I’ve been asked how to reduce medical bills once they are incurred. Of course, the best method is prevention. The next? Getting a good healthcare insurance cover (click here to know more).
But what happens when you’ve already incurred the bills? Here’s some pointers:
1.Choose when to be hospitalised – emergencies aside, its better to be admitted during office-hours and during weekdays. Why? Because many hospitals cut off ‘non-essential services’ after office-hours. You’ll be hard-pressed to find dieticians , physiotherapists and some specialists on weekends. It may seem unfair, but hospitals do charge an ‘overtime fee’ or surcharge if services are provided after office-hours.
2. Review the bill – go through the charges. Are they accurate? Extra charges and miscoding can occur, intentional or otherwise. If there are disputes, hospitals have standard grievance procedures (more of this in a future blog article) where such disputes may be resolved.
3. Negotiate – everything is negotiable. Talk to the service provider to see if they will offer a discount for the various items charged on the bill, especially if you’re paying out of pocket. Some hospitals have provision for a discount – if you ask for it.
4. Ask for a payment plan – if you cannot pay in a lump sum, ask for instalments. Some hospitals will allow this, at no interest charge. Put it in writing and if you cannot keep to the schedule, re-negotiate.
5. Charity begins not at home – many not-for-profit hospitals have a subsidy program or a foundation which will pay or subsidise for deserving cases. You will be interviewed by a financial counsellor who willmassess whether you deserve one. Such programs are understandably poorly publicised, so do not be afraid to ask.
6. Seek out support groups – especially cancer support groups. They will be well-placed to advise on charities or foundations who might be able to access funds.
7. Government assistance programs – many pension or annuity schemes will allow withdrawal for payments of critical illnesses. Yes, it will dwindle your savings, but at least you will not be deprived of adequate medical care.
- Personal Health: Put Your Hospital Bills Under a Microscope (nytimes.com)
- Six Ways to Save Money on Your Health Care Costs (socyberty.com)
- Finding Errors in the Hospital Bill (well.blogs.nytimes.com)
“It’s not like the fat sits out here easily identified and you just slice it off. It’s marbled throughout the meat.”
–Jon M. Kingsdale, executive director of the agency that administers the universal healthcare service in Massachusetts, when asked to identify and reduce costs so that the healthcare budget will fall in line.
My comment: For those preaching universal healthcare (free healthcare for everybody), there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Someone’s got to pay for it, be it the individual or the state. You can try to reduce costs, but that’s easier said than done. Great quote!
If you have to be admitted to a hospital, try and avoid going in on a weekend. Yes, I know, if its an emergency, fair enough, you have to get in. You can’t choose your dates when you get sick and when that happens,you need to be hospitalised straightaway. But, in the case of when you have a choice of when to get into hospital (such as for an elective surgery or for an extensive checkup), it would be wise to plan ahead and choose a weekday.
Why? For several reasons:
- Many hospitals cut off what is deemed as ‘non-essential services’ for the weekend. You will not find a dietician or full physiotherapy services on a weekend. This means waiting for Monday before anything happens.
- Many specialists take off for the weekend (doctors are human,too), leaving just a specialist on call who may not be the person you are looking for. Sometimes, the appropriate specialist may not be available and the patient may end up being seen by a specialist who may not be a subspecialist in the desired field.
- It may sound unfair, but the majority of private hospitals levy an overtime surcharge for lab tests, imaging studies or usage of operation theatres if these are utilised on weekends. Even though you did not choose to get sick on a weekend, you may be surcharged up to 50% over and above the usual rates.
- The support staff, like nurses and technicians, are usually kept to a bare minimum on weekends to reduce overheads and sometimes, on a busy day with lots of emergencies, optimum care may not always be available.
In these recessionary and inflationary times, there are strategies that can be taken to minimise expenditure related to health without compromising on accessibility and efficacy.
Its a fact…none of us want to get sick or injured. Its also a fact that getting hospitalised can happen to anyone in unexpected ways and the doctrine that it “can only happen to the other person” isn’t often the case. And if you’re uninsured, its a double-whammy once the hospital bill is presented.
If you haven’t yet taken out an adequate health insurance, this is the time. In the US alone, 15% of the population (45 million people!) aren’t covered by insurance or third-party payors(1) This means they have to pay out-of-pocket if they require medical care. In many countries, unless there is some form of social insurance, a significant number of people will be left uninsured. In Malaysia, it is estimated that one-third of those who use private healthcare facilities have to pay out-of-pocket.
Recession or no, the inflationary rate for healthcare will relentlessly increase by 8-12% every year and, in the US, is matched by a corresponding increase as far as health-plan rates are concerned. The time to take out a policy is NOW!.
There are some points to note when considering a health insurance plan:
- Just because you are covered by a group insurance plan taken out by your employers does not mean you will be covered once you retire or leave the company. What then?
- Is the current plan adequate to meet your needs? Make sure you have the right plan. Just in case you didn’t know, a life insurance plan does not include hospitalisation expenses.
- Does the plan include office visits (aka outpatient visits) as well? Many plans specify only reimbursement for hospitalisation only.
- Study in detail copayments( the percentage of the total hospital bill that you have to pay in excess of your benefits) , coinsurance (the fixed percentage of the hospital bill you have to pay) and excess clauses (the amount you have to pay before the insurance kicks in).
- Know about cooling-off periods. No claims will be entertained if you develop an illness within a specified period of taking the policy.
Its not that the payor or insurance company is always taking you for a ride but, hey , they’re in the business to make money and that’s why they will reject those clients who are at high risk, usually those with a bad medical history. Such private insurance companies adopt the risk-rated model.
In order to provide universal health coverage, countries, including the USA, are striving for a community-rated model where there is 100% coverage for the people. Read here.