Cutting medical costs isn’t as hard as you think

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Medical procedures are expensive, and if you don’t do your research, you could end up owing the hospital tens of thousands of dollars.

But there are several things you can do to avoid going into debt the next time you go in for a test or surgery.  Many experts suggest before going in for any procedure, you should first cost compare.

"You need to do your homework. You need to do your studies before you decide which hospital to go," said Iran Amani, a financial counselor with the Consumer Credit Counseling Services out of Overland Park.

Several websites allow you to do that.

At New Choice Health, type in your procedure, your location and insurance carrier to bring up the estimated prices being offered at area hospitals. For example, let's say you need an electrocardiogram. The website shows a great price to pay for that procedure in Kansas City would be $525, a fair price would be $725 and an expensive price would be $1,350.

When you compare hospitals, you find Overland Park Regional Medical Center charging as much as $2,600 for this procedure - almost double the most expensive price. Saint Joseph Medical Center, on the other hand, charges $625. That's $2,000 less for the exact same procedure.

Why do hospitals charge different prices for the same procedures?

Cindy Samuelson, the Vice President of Public Relations with the Kansas Hospital Association, said bigger hospitals have more overhead and many times will charge more. Facilities with more staff, better doctors or more advanced equipment “may have a different cost for a procedure than a hospital that doesn’t have all those resources to support.” Also many hospitals will charge a facility fee that smaller, independent facilities do not.

Christine Hamele, the Vice President of Marketing and Development with the Overland Park Regional Medical Center, said despite the difference in prices, what a patient ends up paying "has more to do with the type of insurance coverage they have than the hospital 'prices' or 'charges'.”

Many patients, though, are still frustrated with the high cost of medical care.

"I don’t understand how they can charge that much for a simple procedure," said Chandra Olbrich of Lenexa. She went in to Overland Park Regional Medical Center for a thyroid biopsy and was shocked to see the final bill.

"My bill was for $7,788 of which I ended up owing $3,600 before the insurance," Olbrich said. "To me that’s an exorbitant amount for the procedure that was done. It was an hour. It was a needle. It was a band aid."

"It’s just working with the hospital to see what type of payment plan they can set for the patient that is affordable," Amani said.

Amani suggests once you decide where to have your procedure, you should call your insurance company and the hospital to find out exactly how much you will have to pay. If you cannot afford it, many hospitals will work with you to put together a payment plan. Some will lower the overall cost if you pay a lump sum up front.

Other websites you can visit to cost compare medical procedures include the Healthcare Bluebook and Fair Health Consumer Cost Lookup.

Since your insurance company limits what a hospital can charge you, you’ll want to call the hospital and price it out first before undergoing any procedure.