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Ask Sid

Do Doctors Give Discounts?

Q. I read that you can get a discount on medical costs just by asking. I’ve tried, with no success. Any advice?

A. Studies show that only about 13 percent of patients ever ask their doctors or hospitals for a price break, but when they do, most are successful. However, those discounts are usually given to people facing high out-of-pocket costs with little or no health insurance. So if you have good insurance coverage, don’t expect your doctor to agree to waive a $25 copayment or charge you only $5 for a visit.

Still, your chances of snagging a discount are better if you offer to pay in cash up front or via an interest-free installment plan—especially if it will save the provider time, paperwork and haggling with insurers over reimbursements. Typically, insurers reimburse providers about half their billed amounts, but patients may fare best asking for a more reasonable 10 to 30 percent discount.

The time to politely inquire about a price break directly from the doctor (as opposed to the office staff) is before getting treatment—but after you’ve called a local health insurer about what it usually reimburses providers for that type of visit or procedure. You can also find cost estimates online from the National Institutes of Health.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of "Scam-Proof Your Life" (AARP Books/Sterling).


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