4 Tips for saving money if you’re uninsured

By Martine Brousse Even as the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, is put in place, many Americans remain uninsured. If this is you,…

Save money If you’re uninsured. (Shutterstock)

By Martine Brousse

Even as the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, is put in place, many Americans remain uninsured. If this is you, don’t fret—there are many ways to save money even without insurance.

SEE ALSO: Will Latinos in California save Obamacare?

Here are four tips to help guide you to an appropriate, affordable and fair settlement:

1. Never pay full price — if you can avoid it

If you can, offer to pay for medical services up front and in cash—cash discounts usually run from 10% to 50%, as determined by the medical provider. But don’t stop there, as you could be given an additional discount on services by doing a little extra work.

Ask for an itemized bill, which records the complete list of all procedures, lab tests, medications, supplies and visits performed at the office or hospital. Make sure to double-check for duplicate line items or services you didn’t receive—billing mistakes are common.

You should also check for duplicate billing for items that are part of a bundled service. For example, you should not be charged separately for syringes for lab tests, oxygen monitoring in the ambulance ride, or doctor’s review of medications. Each doctor’s office or facility must explain and justify every charge to you, so ask for explanations or proof of service if you have any doubts.

If all of the services check out, your provider’s financial officer or billing manager can also help you find outside assistance or work out a payment plan that fits your budget. Many hospitals have funds reserved to help cover the costs of low-income patients or those in special situations. Based on your household income, you may qualify for help with all or part of your bill.

2. Do some research

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has many basic billing guideslike the CMS Payment Fact Sheet Series. Use the guidelines to point out non-billable items.

You should also do some research on how to save on your medications. The Food and Drug Administration offers a search that will tell you if there’s a generic version of a medication. Generics can cost 80 to 85 percent less than brand name drugs, so ask your doctor about switching to generics.

Technology can do some of the legwork for you. The PokitDok app—free for iOS devices and coming soon to Android—finds providers in your area, compares costs and services, reviews your options, requests quotes and helps negotiate a fair price directly with the office or facility.

3. Meet halfway

It doesn’t hurt to ask when it comes to your finances. If you can afford it, try offering the facility a full payment rather than smaller monthly payments; it’ll save you added interest. By showing commitment up front, you could get larger discounts and better terms.

Offering to pay by check rather than with a credit card could be another sign of good faith. If an office can save on its credit card processingfees, it may look more kindly on a discount.

 4. Work with a patient advocate

Many patient advocates are familiar with coding, medical records, statements and reimbursement rates, and can sort through itemized bills effectively and know how to negotiate the lowest prices.

Fees usually range between $50 to $100.00 per hour, but some advocates charge a commission based on how much you end up saving. You can also use free online services to get your billing questions answer by certified expert.

Martine Brousse is a health care specialist and patient advocate for NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor for Health.