How to Cut the Cost of a Hospital Stay

Hospital stays are expensive, but you have a lot more control over that final bill than you might think. Let's look at some things that you can do to cut the cost of a hospital stay, whether you're being admitted for a planned procedure or landed in the hospital quite unexpectedly.

Work With Your Doctor

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If you need a test or procedure that's going to require a hospital stay, insert yourself in the planning process. Don't just let the doctor's office call you with all the details.You have a right to be included in any decision that involves your body and your pocketbook. If your doctor makes you feel otherwise, it's time to find a new doctor.

If your insurance company offers a discount for using in-network facilities and service providers, remind your doctor of this, and make sure everyone involved in your care will be on your network. This includes labs, anesthesiologists and the hospital itself.

  • Ask your doctor to outline the expenses involved in the test/procedure that you'll be undergoing, and to suggest ways that you can cut your bill.
  • Is a hospital stay really necessary? Could the test or procedure be handled at an outpatient facility, where care is typically billed at a cheaper rate?
  • Are there routine tests that could be done at an independent lab before you go in to save money? Things like blood tests and chest x-rays.
  • Can you bring your own prescriptions from home to avoid hospital dispensing fees?
  • Would he/she be willing to give you a discount, if you pay your portion of the bill in cash or immediately upon receipt?
  • Don't hesitate to ask any question that comes to mind. The more questions you ask, the more chances you have to save. 

Talk to Your Insurance Company

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As soon as you have all the details worked out with your doctor, call your insurance company to run everything by them. Find out how much you can expect the procedure to cost at the facility you'll be using, whether everyone who will be involved in your care is in your network, and how much you can expect to pay out of pocket after your co-insurance and deductible are taken into account. Once you have a clear idea of what you can expect to pay, ask if there's a cheaper facility you could use or another way that you could save.

  • Also be sure to ask if a pre-approval is required for the test/procedure that you'll be undergoing.
  • If you turn up a way to save, don't hesitate to circle back to your doctor to discuss it — even if it means rescheduling something.

Research the Hospital

Hospital Hallway
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Don't just go with what your doctor and insurance company tell you. Do your own research to determine if there's a cheaper facility that you could be using. Most insurance companies have an app that allows you to look up the negotiated prices at area providers. There may be a facility near you that the person you spoke with overlooked or considered to be too far away. It's certainly worth a second look. Use Consumer Reports hospital rating system to look up any hospital that you're considering. Saving money is important, but so is receiving quality care.

Once you've locked in your hospital, read up on their policies, so you understand how you'll be billed. Find out what is and is not included in their room and board fee, so you don't run up extra charges on incidentals. If you find you need something that isn't included in your room charge, you'll know to send someone home for it. 

Also find out what the hospital's check in/check out times are, so you can time your stay to minimize the number of days that you are charged for. It's also smart to schedule your visit during the week. Staffing is at a minimum on the weekends, so you could have to stay longer to get the tests/care that you need.

The hospital's policies should be posted on their website, but don't hesitate to call the hospital if anything is unclear to you.

Document Your Stay

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Hospital billing errors are common, so it pays to keep a diary of your stay. If you're not feeling up to it, ask someone else to do it for you. Things to keep track of:

  • How long you were in the operating room and recovery room. Both of these facilities are billed by the minute, so it's definitely worth jotting down your in and out times.
  • Procedures/tests that were ordered (including those that were later canceled). It's common for hospitals to forget to remove the charges for canceled tests and procedures.
  • Drugs and other extras that were administered to you. This will help you to determine if your list of extras jives with theirs.

Review Your Bill Carefully

Medical Bill
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Hospital billing errors are common and costly, so you need to review each bill carefully. Start by requesting an itemized bill from each service provider. It'll have a lot more detail that the bill they sent you, which will make it easier to spot mistakes.

Unfortunately, medical bills are written in code, so they aren't the easiest things to read. You'll need to turn to the Internet to look up each code to make sure it matches up with the care that you received. Once you've done that, go through each billed item line by line, and look for anything that seems out of place — services that you were billed for that you didn't receive, two physicians charging you for the same procedure, medical supplies that should have been included in your room fee, too many OR or recovery room minutes charged, etc.

If a charge seems excessive to you, or you have no idea how much something should cost, use the Healthcare Bluebook to look up fair prices for services.

Contact the billing department to discuss any errors that you found, and if necessary, request an audit of your hospital bill. Hospitals only audit bill when customers ask, so lots of billing errors slip by them. Don't get stuck paying for services that you didn't receive.

Negotiate Your Bill

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After you've had all of the errors backed out of your bill, it's time to ask for a price break. Call up the billing department, and ask if they'd be willing to extend you a discount for paying your bill in full (you'd be surprised at how often they say yes).

If you can't afford to pay in full, request a payment plan instead. Tell them how much you can afford to pay each month, and they'll usually accept your offer. Hospitals don't charge interest on outstanding bills, so this is way better than paying off the balance with a credit card. As long as you keep up with the payment plan that you set up, they won't bother you.

In a tough financial situation? Let the billing department know. They may have charity or hardship programs in place to help out. If you are unemployed, have a low-income or are up to your eyeballs in debt, you may qualify for assistance.

Bottom line: If you want the billing department to cut you some slack, ask them to work with you as soon as the bill comes. Don't put the problem off. It won't go away, and it won't magically get better. Billing people deal with irate people all day, so if you're polite, your request for help will stand out.