Saving big bucks on medical care by surgery shopping

PORTLAND, Ore. — Huge bills for medical procedures give many of us a big shock after a visit to the hospital.

But what if you could cut those bills in half or come close to it?

KATU discovered a method for researching medical costs that could save you a lot of money, and it’s simpler than you might think.

“… Crazy how expensive this stuff is.”

Last year, Kevin Stangeland, of Southeast Portland, had a hearing problem that was not going away.

“I went to the doctor, had it looked at and they said they could replace a chunk of my bone in there,” Stangeland said. “I guess there’s a mechanical joint that can be replaced.”

The procedure is called a stapedectomy.

Stangeland took his doctor’s advice and had a specialist perform the surgery at a hospital.

“For the most part,” Stangeland said it worked. “My hearing’s a lot better in that ear.”

But when he and his wife saw the bill, they were shocked.

“I think all in total it was around $16,000,” Stangeland said. “When you compare the bills, the bills from the hospital having our first kid was cheaper than this and I think it included a couple days’ stay.”

Stangeland’s insurance company picked up most of the tab for the surgery, but with his deductible he said he and his wife had to pay about $6,500 out of pocket.

“The doctor’s great, the service is good,” Stangeland said. “I just think it’s crazy how expensive this stuff is.”

KATU found out Stangeland may have been able to get the procedure done for about half as much — not at a hospital, but at an ambulatory surgery center.

As of Monday, The Wilshire Surgery Center in Portland advertised laser stapedectomies online for an estimated price of about $8,700.

“Hospital care almost by definition is the most expensive care,” said Bill Kampine, an expert on medical costs and co-founder of a company called Healthcare Bluebook.

He told KATU you can save big bucks by hunting for a good deal on procedures, especially if they don’t have to be done at a hospital.

“Outpatient procedures — be they diagnostic procedures like imaging or surgeries like cataracts or other procedures like screening colonoscopies,” Kampine said, “are really good procedures for shopping.”

To prove his point, Kampine sent KATU a price analysis, using cataract surgery as an example.

It shows in Portland, the procedure can cost upwards of around $10,000 if it’s performed at a hospital. But if it’s done at an ambulatory surgery center, the price plummets to around $3,000.

The savings can vary depending on the procedure but generally Kampine said hospitals are almost always the most expensive option.

“Even if you go to the least expensive hospital for any of these services you can still do better at an independent facility at least for the outpatient services,” Kampine said.

That’s because of part of your medical bill includes a facility fee, which can show up under different names.

On Stangeland’s bill, for example, it’s called “operating room services.”

In the case of cataract surgeries in Portland, Kampine found the median facility fee at hospitals is about three times higher than the fees at ambulatory surgery centers.

“It’s not just about finding the doctor,” Kampine said. “The facility that you choose is going to be the single decision that you make that’s going to have the biggest impact on cost.”

And studies show the higher the costs, the higher your insurance premiums can skyrocket.

Article From: Katu

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