Tips to Slash Your Medical Costs

The high price of health care combined with the low reach of the dollar in the lackluster economy is forcing families to find new ways to slash their medical bills. "Good Morning America" financial contributor Mellody Hobson explains how you can dramatically cut your medical bills.

Use the Right Medical Facility

It makes all the difference in costs. Most people just go straight to the emergency room when they're sick, and that's the worst thing you can do.

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You need to make sure you get the care you need at the cheapest price. So don't start at the emergency room, where an average trip costs more than a $1,000 before your insurance kicks in.

First, consider a clinic within your HMO. If you have one, that can be a no-cost option, or consider a convenience care clinic, where costs are also very low, usually about $35 before your insurance benefit.

Then, think about going to your doctor's office if you have a more serious problem. The co-pay will still be much lower there. And if it's after hours, or you need immediate help, consider an urgent care center instead of the emergency room. It's a fraction of the cost, about $153 before your insurance benefit.

Consider a Billing Software Review Package

By some estimates, eight out of 10 hospital bills contain errors, increasing the average bill by 25 percent.

The first thing to do is call up the billing department of the hospital or facility and make them go through the bill line by line, and explain what every charge is. Then, if you still have questions, dispute the bill.

There are also software packages available that cost $25 to $50 and often include an analysis feature that helps determine if you should dispute certain items. Some even track expenses for tax deduction purposes.

Now, if your bills are complex and big, the best thing to do is get a claims assistance professional, who will review your bill for errors, file the paperwork and ensure you received all of your entitled benefits. You can ask your accountant for recommendations.

The only downside is that they can be expensive. Most charge $40 to $80 an hour, but some companies do have a flat monthly or annual fee. That said, if you have a big, complicated bill, a claims assistance professional can save you a lot of money, even after the fees.

Buy Generic Drugs When Available

Americans spend about $200 billion a year on prescriptions. That's more than $650 for every American. And we all know you can save big -- up to 60 percent -- by buying generic medications when they are available.

But often, there's no generic equivalent of the medication you need. That's because patents don't allow for a generic until 17 to 20 years after a drug goes on the market.

But you can still save by using what's called a therapeutic alternative, which is a similar drug that gives you same results. One example is for cholesterol medication. Instead of taking Lipitor, some patients might be able to substitute Lovastatin, which is much cheaper. Of course, you should always check with your doctor first.

Bottom line, always ask your doctor for the lowest-cost option that will work for you. And also make sure you ask about samples. Often, doctors can give you a full course of medication using samples, or at least give you enough to help cut down on the cost of what you'll have to pay for at the pharmacy.

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