How Savvy Patients Cut Their Health Care Costs

Need surgery? It pays to shop around, though it takes diligence to do so.

Need surgery? It pays to shop around, though it takes diligence to do so. That’s the message from an important new study published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, in which researchers called upon 122 different medical centers to ask how much a hip replacement would cost for a fictitious 62-year-old grandmother with no insurance.

Their findings were outrageous, revealing a range from $11,100 to $125,798—more than ten times’ difference in price. Worse, only 60 percent of top-ranked orthopedic hospitals were able to give a price quote at all. “Our calls to hospitals were often greeted by uncertainty and confusion,” the study authors wrote. “We were frequently transferred between departments, asked to leave messages that were rarely returned, and told that prices could not be estimated without an office visit.”

Even insured patients should shop around, since “employers increasingly force workers to share more health care costs by paying higher co-payments and deductibles, ” study author Peter Cram, MD, told USA Today.

While this study is certainly eye-opening, Reader’s Digest uncovered similar findings a few months ago in our special report “Why A Hospital Bill Costs What It Costs.” Our reporter interviewed 18 health-industry sources—from hospital chief financial officers to medical billing experts—to find out how patients can get less expensive care, including:

• Use these websites to research prices in advance.

• Keep a patient log during hospital stays to check for overbilling errors.

• Don’t sign any admission forms without this protective clause.

Read “Why A Hospital Bill Costs What It Costs” to find out more.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest