HOUSTON - For many people these days going to the hospital is like
entering a cage fight, full of tension and drama and surprises, where patients often
feel powerless against the massive hospital system and its huge costs.
In fact, struggling to pay high medical bills is the number one cause of personal
bankruptcy in this country.
Tatyana Prichetnikova is a 34-year-old single mother from Houston who went to the
hospital because she was writhing in pain from a kidney stone.
"I was driving at the time of the attack. I start crying and screaming because the
pain was so bad," remembered Prichetnikova.
At the hospital, Prichetnikova was given an IV, a MRI, a urine test and four ibuprofen
pills for the pain.
"I did not get to ask doctor question, they didn't give me advice. Nothing, nothing
was taken care, besides they easing my pain," Prichetnikova said.
After a short three-hour hospital stay, Prichetnikova got a bill for $10,153.00.
She could not believe the cost.
"I'm saying I can't pay this bill right now, as I hang up I start crying and my
heart was beating like crazy and I think now I'm having heart attack too," recalled
Tatyana as she looked at her invoice from the hospital.
Enter Shawn Fry, a former hospital administrator, who now runs Prevalent Healthcare
Information Technology, which is a company that specializes in helping hospitals
improve billing, identify billing mistakes and ultimately help hospitals collect
Fry said the average American hospital patient could save thousands and thousands
of dollars on their hospital bills, just by following a few simple steps.
"I would say almost all Americans are paying too much for hospital costs," said
Here are the steps to cutting your hospital bills:
Shop the exact price for the hospital procedure you want at different hospitals
in your area.
There are several new websites where you can do just that.
Sites like HealthCareBlueBook.com, SnapHealth.com and ClearHealthCareCost.com.
Armed with that pricing information, now try to negotiate a lower price with the
hospital of your choice for the procedure you want, up front.
Insurance companies do it everyday, so should you.
"Consumers can reduce their cost 20 to 50 percent, simply by the willingness to
negotiate and pay up front," said Fry.
After you have your procedure or service at the hospital, ask for an itemized bill
and check it for mistakes in billing.
Things like being charged for drugs and services you never received.
Being charged two, three, or four times for the same thing.
And the most expensive mistake of all: Being charged for extra days at the hospital
that you never used.
"If you were discharged on Wednesday in the morning, you are not responsible for
paying that days charge -- if you were discharged early enough," said Fry.
Just as college students apply for financial aid, you should apply for financial
aid at the hospital. Many people can qualify and they don't even know it.
If all else fails, ask for a discount off your total bill anyway.
Fry said most of the time, you'll get it, if you are professional in your discussion
and you agree to pay the price that is agreed upon.
"Hospitals would welcome patients who are willing to step up and negotiate, and
agree to pay a lower rate, because hospitals want to get paid, many of these dollars
are never collected by the hospitals," Fry said.
Fry has created a website to help patients negotiate hospital bills on their own
behalf, you can find it here.