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How to Save on Medical Bills

Getting stung by skyrocketing medical costs? Here, 11 ways to reduce the pain.

piggy bankAlexandra Rowley

Ask for freebies or discount coupons. Your doctor may distribute samples of everything from over-the-counter cold medicines to asthma inhalers or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder medicines.
 

Request a three-month prescription. This option, given mostly for medications that treat chronic conditions, like diabetes and arthritis, can reduce costs up to 33 percent (compared with paying monthly).
 

Consider generics. According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a person under the age of 65 could save an average of $46 annually by substituting generics for brand-name drugs.
 

Enroll in your company’s flexible-spending account. Yes, it’s a bit of work, but you can pay for out-of-pocket expenses with pretax dollars.
 

Try mail-order pharmacies. Those affiliated with your insurance company save you time and gas and cost about a third less than retail pharmacies, says Charles Coté, a spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association.
 

See a dental student for checkups. Many dental schools have clinics that treat patients. Fees are about 50 percent less, and your care is supervised by a dentist.
 

Never assume you’re covered. Just because your surgeon is in-network doesn’t mean your anesthesiologist is. An out-of-network visit can leave you stuck with a large bill long after the anesthesia wears off. But for true emergencies (like a possible broken bone, poisoning, or a heart attack), seek medical attention at the nearest facility―you’ll be covered.
 

Negotiate with your doctor. Some offices offer a cash-paying system that uses a sliding scale, such as a discount based on your income or a volume discount for siblings, says Jennifer She, a pediatrician and a coauthor of Heading Home With Your Newborn (American Academy of Pediatrics, $16). It’s also worth asking if there’s a discount when you pay in cash.
 

Get silver-amalgam fillings in your back teeth. They’re half as expensive as white composite fillings (stick with these on teeth up front), and they can last up to four times longer, says Stephen Halem, a clinical researcher at the Forsyth Institute, an independent dental-research center in Boston.
 

Avoid a no-show penalty. Many doctors’ offices charge this fee, which can run around $25 (about the price of an insurance copay). So if you don’t plan to attend, make sure you cancel your appointment in advance.
 

Stay healthy. Some employers and insurers offer wellness incentives that can save a few hundred dollars for employees who visit the gym regularly, eat healthily, or enroll in smoking-cessation classes. Keep in mind that excess pounds are strongly associated with high blood pressure and heart disease, among other chronic illnesses that require daily medication and frequent visits to the doctor.


For tips on how to navigate the ER, see Insider’s Guide to the Emergency Room.

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