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More U.S. patients need aid to pay hospital bills

Almost anyone who has had a hospital stay has been surprised afterward by the bills — a seemingly a la carte of fees for various departments, doctors and procedures. And even with insurance, many people are surprised at how much they still have to pay out of their pockets.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a little more than one-half of all health care spending in the United States is for hospital care. And with the aging of the baby boom generation and the longer life spans experienced by most age groups, the amount of money spent at hospitals is expected to increase beyond the $761 billion spent in 2009, the latest year for which figures are available.

It’s no wonder the American Hospital Association reports that half its members saw an increase in the number of patients needing assistance paying their bills. The loss of jobs during the recent recession has cost many people their employer-provided health insurance, compounding the problem.

But what many consumers don’t realize is that whether they have insurance or pay cash, they can negotiate down the final price of their hospital stay with the hospital's billing department. In fact, medical providers negotiate all the time with insurers.

The first step is to ask for the doctor or hospital’s lowest rate paid by insurance providers. Most doctors and hospitals have a variety of rates for each procedure, depending on which carrier is paying. Medicare and Medicaid rates are often the lowest, so you can check www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov before you negotiate. Allow the hospital to present its estimate first, and then start at a little bit less than the lowest rate you expect to pay.

If you can pay cash, you may be able to negotiate an additional discount.


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