How to Be a Better Health Care Shopper

Take care of your health without busting your budget.

According to data published in the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), more than one in four families in the US experienced the financial burden of medical care while one in ten families had medical bills that they were not able to pay in the past 12 months. The same study showed that having children and/or an uninsured family member will increase the likelihood that a family will experience problems with medical care.

Taking all of these things into consideration, you can see why you need to have ample health coverage for the whole family. Having health insurance protects you from unexpected, high medical costs (even before you meet your deductible) and provides access to free preventive care. In addition, people who have health coverage don’t have to pay a fee for not being insured. This fee can be based on your income (2% of your income) or the number of people in your household ($325 per person in the household), whichever is higher.

However, since most Americans are now paying a bigger share of their health care costs than ever before, you need to know how you can get the maximum benefits from your medical spending. Here are some key strategies that can help you become a better health care shopper.

Stay within your insurer’s network. You can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars by staying in-network since there is a great possibility that your insurer has already negotiated a significantly lower rate for their members. So, before you go to a doctor or have a procedure, make sure the provider and everyone involved in the procedure is included in your plan’s network.

See if your plan offers additional discounts for using preferred providers. There are plans that offer special discounts (lower co-payments or coinsurance rates) if you use physicians and/or facilities that meet the guidelines for providing high-quality, cost-efficient care. Use your plan’s search tools to find which providers are included in these programs.

Consider using independent facilities. Using independent facilities for x-rays, MRIs and CAT scans can save you a lot of money. For example, having an MRI at an in-network hospital may cost you more than $1,000, but having the same test in an in-network independent radiology facility may cost you less than $600.

Do your research. Consider using websites such as to get an idea of the average fee providers in your area charge for doctor visits, medical tests and procedures, and hospital stays. You should also use the tools provided in your insurer’s website to know how much the physicians and facilities in your network charge, how much you will pay based on your co-insurance rates and if you have already met your deductible.