How To Decrease Your Medical Costs

May 4th, 2016

Viewpoints from a Naturopathic Physician

by Kendra Pearsall, N.M.D.

People tell us their number one reason for joining Liberty HealthShare is the cost savings. Members report they are saving thousands over previous years' total healthcare expenses. Cost savings is one of the many reasons I LOVE being a member, and for that reason and more, I tell everyone I know about this wonderful program. I asked Liberty HealthShare's Executive Director, Dale Bellis, how Liberty is able to keep membership fees low. He listed the following factors:

  • Liberty members are health-conscious and committed to living healthy lifestyles. This results in fewer medical costs overall.
  • We have a skilled staff that negotiates with physicians and hospitals for the benefit of us all. Members are self-pay patients, so we are able to reduce medicals bills by 50 to 90 percent.
  • We don’t have the overhead expenses and million-dollar salaries of insurance company executives.
  • We are all considered seIf-pay patients, yet we are all in this together! One of the best ways we can look out for one another and become better healthcare consumers is by taking a few steps to reduce medical costs.

There are myriad ways to reduce medical costs at the time of service. Here are several tips that will help you to wisely steward the sharing dollars all Liberty members contribute:

  1. Call around to see who offers the lowest prices. Ask if you can get a discount for paying cash and/or paying for a "package" up front.

For example, my chiropractor offers the following two options: 1) Pay $50 per visit 2) Pay $150 for unlimited visits for the month. It was a no-brainer to sign up for the package. Another example: one health care provider charged $2,500 for a package of treatments if I had insurance and $1,500 if I paid cash. I happily paid the $1,500 on my new Southwest Airlines credit card (which awarded me 51,500 miles or $800 in free flights) and then submitted the invoice to Liberty. This represents a $1,000 savings on eligible medical costs, which is a win for all of us!

Bottom line: It never hurts to ask for a discount and to try to negotiate a package price as most practitioners would happily offer a discount for a guaranteed number of visits.

  1. Avoid emergency rooms if you can get the job done at an urgent care clinic or your doctor's office.

I once had a dog bite on my face. I drove to urgent care and was seen immediately by a physician's assistant. He told me he felt I would be "better off" getting the stitches done in an emergency room because they have plastic surgeons on staff that will do stitches in such a way that would minimize scarring. I reluctantly followed his advice and it turned out to be a huge mistake.

Instead of paying $200 to get 4 stitches done right away, I was sent a bill for $1350 after a 3-hour ordeal at the ER. Also, the stitches were done by a physician's assistant who said he had no idea why I was told to go to the ER when "anyone who knows how to suture could have done the job."

Bottom line: If it's not a life-threatening emergency, call an urgent care clinic or doctor's office to see if they can help.

  1. Tell them you’re self-pay when you go to a hospital.

When I went to the ER for the stitches, I handed them my insurance card (before I was a member of LHS) hoping that my insurance would get me a better-negotiated price on the visit than cash pay. I was wrong. The insurance discount on the visit was a mere $200 ($1530 - $200 = $1330). I called the billing department and complained that $1300 was an outrageous bill for a 15-minute visit and 4 sutures. I asked what kind of discount programs were offered and was told I would have received a discount of more than 50% if I was a self- pay patient, and even more if I claimed hardship. I had already presented my insurance card so I was stuck with the $200 discount and there was nothing that could be done.

Bottom line: Liberty HealthShare members are self-pay patients and should always be billed the self-pay rate.

  1. Get care overseas by engaging in what's called "medical tourism."

Since joining Liberty HealthShare, I was advised to get a fetal ultrasound and an OB blood lab panel. The cost would have been $700. I emailed some clinics in Mexico and found that I could get both tests for only $150 if I traveled there. I decided to get the tests done during a vacation in Mexico. I had already met my Annual Unshared Amount for the year so it would have been no cost to me to have the test done in the USA, but I try to save all of us money just like I would if I were using my own funds because I love Liberty HealthShare and all they do for me. I know that if I save money on my medical needs, there will be more reserves for all of us in a time of need.

Medical tourism is skyrocketing because you can get excellent medical care for a significant discount in certain nations that specialize in medical tourism. For example, a cardiac bypass surgery may cost $150,000 in the US and only $10,000 for a high quality, state-of-the-art hospital in India.

Bottom line: Do your research! There is a great deal of information available on the internet, from rates to reviews.

  1. Do everything you can to prevent disease with a healthy lifestyle.

The surgeon general and the World Health Organization have both stated that 70% of disease is preventable through healthy lifestyle habits. Here are some ideas about living more healthily, but in all cases, seek out the advice of a trusted professional for your individual dietary and lifestyle needs.

  1. Eat a healthy low-carb, high-fat diet of unprocessed, natural, organic, free-range, non-GMO food. Avoid artificial sweeteners.
  2. Get high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercise three times a week and move your body as much as possible every day. Did you know that new research shows that sitting for long periods each day is worse than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day? Get a standing desk so that you sit less than 3 hours a day.
  3. Avoid toxic substances such as cigarettes and illegal drugs. Limit alcohol and caffeine to two or fewer servings a week. Research alternatives to prescription drugs such as pain medications as they may cause harmful side effects.
  4. Keep your toxin exposure low by learning how to establish a healthy, green home and by using water and air filters to remove contaminants.
  5. Learn strategies that decrease stress and increase happiness and well-being. Try meditation, prayer, and emotional freedom and relaxation techniques.

Bottom line: If all LHS Members followed these four guidelines, we could decrease our medical costs dramatically!

When you do your best to decrease medical costs, you are helping keep Monthly Share Amounts stable as well as keeping member funds available for sharing.

Thank you for being part of our LHS Family!

Kendra Pearsall, N.M.D. is a member of Liberty HealthShare's Physician Advisory Board and an occasional contributor to our blog.