How to Talk Down Your Hospital Bill

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"[This article] takes us back to the Casbah where you haggle forever with vendors over every item," Reinhardt said. "You think you get good prices, but when you add to the prices the monetary value of your time, you probably pay the highest prices there.

"Imagine the appointment phone call when you tell your scheduling person that you wish to see the doctor not over a medical issue, but to haggle over his bill," Reinhardt continued. "Can you just see how charmed the doctor will be by that thought?"

He said the idea of haggling over the "gazillion medical transactions" that happen in this country is absurd and an unimaginable time waster.

"I tell you what would happen: some free enterprisers would reinvent binding fee schedules again, to escape the huge transaction costs of a medical casbah," he said. "That this was penned by a doctor is even sadder."

But Santa said most doctors would take the time to help patients understand their bills.

"Doctors are mission-driven, and I think even those who are business-oriented would step up and help out," he said. "During times like these, a physician who isn't sensitive to a patient's financial needs is ignoring reality.

"If a doctor isn't sensitive to that conversation, I'm not sure he is a doctor you want to put your health under their long-term care," he said.

Santa said patients should not be reluctant to ask for help.

"Patients should not expect something for nothing, but if you approach the doctor by saying 'I understand you run a business, but I'm asking you to help facilitate things for something more reasonable for me,' you'll likely be met by the doctor with a willingness to be reasonable back," Santa said.

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