How-to save on health care

Learn savvy savings strategies to maximize your insurance benefits.

It takes only a few simple moves to make sure you don’t overpay for services your family needs. Use these tips to collect the benefits you’re entitled to and shrink your medical bills, so more money stays in your pocket.

Before you go to the doctor:

Do some legwork so you know you’re paying the lowest price.

►Call your physician. To prevent an expensive surprise, confirm whether the doctor accepts your insurance when making the appointment. Don’t rely on the in-network professionals list in your benefits booklet or even on the Web—it might be out-of-date.

►Seek pre-approval. Call and talk to the insurance company before you have any major medical procedure, test or therapy (physical or occupational) to check if it’s covered.

►Book your annuals. Keep your policy on file so you know which services and procedures your plan fully covers. The new federal health care law requires most insurers to pay for mammograms, routine immunizations and preventive screenings if you have a new plan, and most plans also waive co-pays for yearly checkups. Take advantage of all services available to catch potential problems early, before you need to visit a pricey specialist.

►Shop around. The cost of procedures, doctors, services and hospital visits can vary widely. Getting an MRI at a clinic, for example, could save you thousands over the same procedure at a hospital. Call providers to compare prices. If a quote seems high, reply with, “Other providers quoted me a price that’s $100 less. Why would you charge me more?” That simple question could win you a reduction.

►Research the blue-book price. Ask your doctor for the CPT (current procedural terminology) code of a recommended procedure, then look up the fair-value price for your area at healthcarebluebook.com. This step gives you a baseline if you need to negotiate the bill.

►Cash in on freebies. Many insurance plans offer weight-loss and smoking-cessation programs, a nurse’s number for medical advice, health assessments and more at no cost. Check your insurer’s website.

In the office:

Use your time with the physician wisely to get proper care in fewer visits.

►Have paperwork on hand. Carry your personal health dossier with you whenever you visit a physician. Knowing your complete medical history, including the dates of your last immunizations, screenings, checkups and prescriptions, can prevent duplicating services as well as being denied coverage. Also bring a diary that logs any current health concerns, so you will be prepared to discuss all your medical issues. Providing more details could reduce the chances of follow-up visits, so you wind up spending less.

►Keep money in mind. If your doctor refers you to a specialist, ask for a few in-network recommendations. If you need to go elsewhere for a test, find how much it will cost and whether there’s a cheaper alternative. Ask your doctor if she is willing to discuss test results over the phone rather than making a follow-up appointment.

►Take notes. Jot down how long you were with the doctor. Also note what tests or procedures were performed. Check what you wrote down against your bill and insurance statement when they arrive weeks later to make sure you were not overcharged.