Your Health
By Michael Warren

Is buying health care any different from buying anything else? You purchase and you pay. So, just as you shop around for the best in cars, shoes or groceries, so you should play a role in the cost of your health care. 

Ask the doctor to have your tests processed at a lab that will provide the best quality at the best cost; and feel free to seek a second opinion. While this might be somewhat time consuming, once you’ve determined which lab offers the best deal, then you can insist that all your future testing be done at the same place. 
The same principle applies to prescription drugs. If a quality drug that will meet your needs is available in generic form, then insist on the generic when your physician writes a prescription. 

Another way to save begins with you. Be sure you are confident of the support of your insurance company; it’s extremely important that the insurance company be there for you when health care costs are incurred. By cutting corners and obtaining second-rate insurance (or, worse, no insurance), you could easily pay much more in the long run. 

At the grocery store, you receive a receipt that itemizes all your purchases. Request a similar accounting of costs from your physician or hospital. Scrutinize it carefully to ensure you were not charged for a service or product you did not receive. Mistakes are made. 

Regardless of the complexity or size of your bill, you have every right to go to the billing office and ask someone to review it, line by line, to make sure its charges are correct. A busy hospital might not want to comply, but it is your right. 

Even after your insurance has paid for the agreed percentage of health care, the remainder still can be a major blow to any budget. Rather than ignoring the request for payment and risk harming your credit rating, talk to the billing personnel and see if there is a payment plan available. Most will be happy to work with you. 

However, if you ever feel you have been charged for something you didn’t receive, or if you feel a mistake has been made (“the computer did it”), or if you simply do not understand the itemized bill that lands with a sickening thud in your mail box, be a responsible consumer. Ask questions and insist upon clear answers. 

As prevention is the best cure, the best cost-cutting technique is to research the cost of tests and procedures ahead of time. However, this gets us into a whole new discussion (how to talk to your physician); and that’s the subject of another column.

 Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith Professor of Surgery in the division of urology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.