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Don’t Leave It To Luck- Shop Around: A 12 Month Series Of Health Care Education

When buying a car, you shop around.  When buying a home, you shop around.  Even when buying gas or groceries, you shop around.  So why, when it comes to buying health care – one of the most important items you need to buy – do you rarely, if ever, shop around?

One reason you might not ever have considered shopping around for health care is you didn’t suspect there are differences between providers.  In truth, according to, there can be up to a 400% difference in in-network services depending on where you obtain them.

Another, even more likely, reason you haven’t shopped around for health care is because you didn’t know it was possible.  Your health care purchasing probably follows a pattern where you get sick or injured; you go to your primary care physician or a local urgent care center; and you pay the co-pay, coinsurance and/or whatever rate the doctor or center charges for your treatment.  This might work for the common cold, but there are better ways to purchase higher-ticket items such as surgical procedures or rehabilitation services.

There are several simple steps you can take to help bolster your financial health while maintaining your physical health.  Following these steps also can help contain overall health care expenditures and actually work to maintain or reduce your insurance premiums.

First and foremost, you need to understand exactly your particular health care needs.  Ask your physician precise questions until you have a thorough understanding of your condition.  Inquire about alternative treatment plans to determine all of your options rather than simply choosing the first suggested course.

Once you fully grasp your circumstances and you have treatment alternatives, do your homework.  Just like when you buy other goods and services, be sure to price various providers before you purchase.  You can do this by accessing one of the following on-line sites that provides comparative treatment pricing information.

  • – allows you to put in your zip code to obtain pricing information along with a detailed printable agreement you can bring to the physician to negotiate price.
  • – permits you to search for the cheapest prescription drugs and which store sells what drug for less in a certain area; has coupons and discount cards, too.
  • – provides detailed costs per service or procedure, including insured vs. uninsured costs.  The site requires a current procedural terminology (CPT) code from a doctor or an explanation of benefits (EOB).
  • – generates comparative information on procedure costs charged by local providers.  Site includes doc finder, and you can input a procedure and request a quote from providers in your area.
  • – helps you find the best prices in your area for self-pay and negotiated discounts for self-pay on radiology services, like MRI, nuclear medicine, mammography, etc.  This service allows you to compare doctors who can perform the procedure you need, request and create an appointment, and pre-pay for the discounted service – at no extra cost to you.

For example, by using, you could search CT scans and find that one provider only a few miles away from another charges almost 19% less.  You can imagine if you saved such a percentage on all of your annual health care needs just how much of an impact shopping around could have.

In addition, you always should keep the following simple tips in mind:

  • Diagnostic testing (e.g., MRI, hematological screenings, etc.) tends to be less costly at stand-alone facilities than in a hospital.
  • Generally outpatient treatment is less expensive than inpatient treatment.
  • Generic medications are typically cheaper than brand name medications – and can even be free at some grocery store chain pharmacies, depending on the medication.
  • Ambulatory clinics like CVS’s MinuteClinic can provide many of the same services as a traditional doctor’s office at an equal or lesser price.

If you take the time to be fully informed as to your medical needs, and you take care to employ the resources and tips noted above, your path to health and wellness can be easier and, more importantly, cheaper.  So here’s to your health . . . and happy shopping.