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I saw a TV news segment that said you can bargain on price for anything, including your doctor bill. How can I do this?

It’s true. Many patients, who are either uninsured or face significant out-of-pocket medical expenses after their health insurance has tapped out, can try to talk their medical providers into lowering their bills.

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However, this doesn't apply to Medicare patients. Also, if you have private health insurance, you can't bargain down your health insurance co-payment or deductible, which are predetermined in the contract with your insurance company.

But everything else is open to negotiation. You should talk to your doctor if you're not sure you can afford a treatment or procedure. You and your doctor need to be on the same page when addressing your treatment plan.

As part of their contracts with doctors and hospitals, health insurance companies don't pay the entire doctors' fees -- so you have some room to negotiate a discount. Find out who you should contact in the doctor’s office to discuss your financial situation.

Don't be afraid to ask how much something costs before you agree to treatment and whether there's a less-expensive alternative. Remember that some of the largest expenses are outside of your doctor's control, such as costs for tests like MRIs and CT scans. Costs vary widely, so it pays to shop around. Sometimes doctors can refer you to facilities that offer better deals. If not, find out how much labs charge for the test you need before you schedule the appointment.

For more, read Don't be rude! The etiquette of asking your doctor for price breaks and free drugs and how to haggle for a lower price with your doctor.

Last updated: Dec. 16, 2010
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