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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

5 strategies to help avoid unexpected medical bills

Oct 31, 2022 11:56AM ● By Dr. Donna O’Shea, United Healthcare

Nearly everyone wants to save more money, especially when it comes to paying for medical care. To help encourage that, various recent federal regulations have spurred a greater focus on healthcare cost transparency, both by hospitals and health plans.

For instance, the No Surprises Act is designed to help reduce the likelihood of people receiving an unexpectedly large medical bill—something that more than half of Americans have experienced. Other recent regulations require hospitals to post prices online, while health insurers have been mandated to do the same.

While these efforts offer important protections, there are various other ways to help avoid an unexpected medical bill. Here are five strategies to consider:

Compare health plans based on quality and cost. 

Health plans are now required to publicly disclose contracted rates with healthcare providers and facilities, with additional requirements for more consumer-friendly disclosures starting in 2023. Fortunately, some health plans already offer transparency resources featuring quality and cost information, available online or through customer service. Before scheduling a medical appointment, check with your health plan to review quality and cost information.

Stay in-network. 

While the No Surprises Act helps reduce the chance of an unplanned large out-of-network bill, it’s important to always start with in-network healthcare professionals and facilities for non-emergency care. That includes referrals by a primary care physician to labs for bloodwork, imaging and other tests. To help reduce the risk of surprise charges, some health plans are proactively contacting members before they go out of network, sending a text message, emailing or calling to notify them about more affordable in-network options.

Recognize remaining risks. 

Even with upfront research, there are still a few potential risks to be aware of. Many health plans cover preventive services, such as wellness visits, mammograms or colonoscopies. However, some advanced screenings may not be considered preventive and can result in an out-of-pocket charge. Avoid this by working with your care provider to complete a preauthorization form to confirm any services or tests are covered under your benefits.

Negotiate surprise bills.

In the event of a surprise bill, talk with the support staff at the hospital or doctor’s office to request that the charge be waived or reduced. If needed, some health plans offer resolution support to negotiate on behalf of members. If you receive a surprise bill from an out-of-network care provider, call the number on the back of your insurance ID card to alert your health plan and check for assistance.

Consider plans with upfront pricing.

Rather than receiving medical care and then waiting for the bill to arrive weeks or months later, some new health plans enable members to review—and pay for—out-of-pocket expenses before medical care is delivered. The goal is to make navigating the health system simpler and more transparent, in part by eliminating deductibles and using clear pricing to encourage people to select quality, cost-efficient healthcare providers and facilities. 

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