Aging Options

Comparing prices before you buy healthcare

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Did you know you can go to a website to find out the costs (both to your health and to your pocketbook) of having an x-ray?

If you want to know the cost to you health-wise, you can go to and get an individual report about any increased risk of cancer. You can also get an idea about how a procedure might stack up against environmental radiation. Which fascinates me but maybe it doesn’t you. That’s because most Americans are aware to some degree of the ordinary risks of some medical procedures, but ask them how much a procedure costs and even the doctors performing the procedure are unlikely to know. Usually, we don’t have any idea until the deed is done and we’re staring at a bill. That’s fairly similar to our experience of buying a car. A few people have a really good idea but those of us who buy a car every 20 years feel like we get thrown under the bus whenever we talk to a car dealer. The difference between that world and the health world however is that no matter what else happens you know the price of the car before you get to drive it home. That’s simply not true for medical procedures.

If your medical insurance is now what is being called the Bronze plan for instance, you pay roughly 40 percent of your medical costs. That’s not so bad if you go to the doctor once a year but if you are suddenly looking at a major surgery, you can feel like you have no control over what can turn out to be a significant bill. More than 60 percent of bankruptcies in America are the result of medical bills. But, there’s an option for people who want to have more control over their medical bills and it works just like the Kelly Blue Book does but instead of being about cars it’s about the price of a medical procedure.

According to the website, “the cost of certain in-network procedures can vary by over 400%. The biggest factor driving cost is where the care is provided.” Do you need to have an MRI done on your arm? In Tacoma, on average, an x-ray for an arm should cost $66 according to the site. The same MRI done in New York City will cost $74 on average. Prices listed on the site are determined by what actual providers will accept as payment because that’s what they’ve told them.

Although you would never want to make a health decision based solely on price, having an idea about how much you should be charged levels the playing field and allows you to take a proactive stand to avoid being overcharged.

If you have health insurance, find the price for the procedure or test and then contact a provider in your network and ask them for the rate they charge.  You may have to contact several providers to find one that is willing to accept a fair price.

If you don’t have insurance, call providers and ask them if they offer discounts for individuals who pay out of pocket and what price they are willing to accept.

In addition to providing prices for procedures and tests, the site also provides a boilerplate agreement that you can take to your provider to negotiate the rate and information on how to negotiate with a provider and additional suggestions on how to negotiate the price of your healthcare.

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