March 29, 2008— -- When Fatima Mehdikarini was pregnant with her second child, she wanted to make sure she ate right, got plenty of rest and did everything she could to ensure a smooth and affordable delivery.
"My experience with my pregnancy was to educate myself about all the costs involved and from that point on, tackling them one by one to see what kind of discount I could get," Mehdikarini said.
After months of research and haggling, she found a deal on the birthplace of her baby.
"Overall, I saved between $4,500 and $5,000 … about 45-50 percent," Mehdikarini said of her hospital bill.
Contrary to popular belief, doctor and hospital bills are often negotiable, on everything from cosmetic dentistry to mental therapy. Even plastic surgery patients have been able to save money.
"No one knows how often this type of haggling goes on, but when it does happen, people are having success," said Angie Merak at Smart Money magazine.
According to one recent study published in Smart Money, 66 percent of patients who tried to negotiate costs with their doctor succeeded, while 70 percent of patients haggling with hospitals got a better deal.
While not everything can be negotiated, doctors and hospitals do have more wiggle room than many patients realize.
"It's not as simple as haggling on a used car lot," Merak said. "Doctors do have legal stipulations, meaning they cannot waive co-pays. The trick is to look for areas and fees that are not covered. Things like fees for a doctor's time and office fees."
For Mehdikarini, that meant not being afraid to sound cheap.
"My philosophy is just ask. Be upfront with your doctor and say, how much is this gonna cost me. Also ask what other costs are going to be involved. … There's a lot of different costs involved, and you need to educate yourself as to what all of those are."