Shopping around can save you thousands on medical bills - News, Weather & Sports

Shopping around can save you thousands on medical bills

Crystal and Brandon McGrew didn't do the research when they had tubes inserted into their son's ears twice. Crystal and Brandon McGrew didn't do the research when they had tubes inserted into their son's ears twice.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - If you're buying a car or TV, you shop around. But when it comes to the soaring cost of healthcare, many people pay the bill without ever having checked to find a better price.

With all the different insurance companies, hospitals and pay scales out there, it would take an economist to try to explain why prices are different.

There are some simple ways consumers can save thousands on their medical costs and still get top-notch care. If you don't do some research, it can cost you.

When frequent ear infections derailed 2-year-old Amos McGrew, his parents had ear tubes inserted. When the problems persisted, Amos got ear tubes put in again. But this time, they got much more than they expected.

When Amos' parents, Crystal and Brandon, opened the bill for his second ear tube procedure, they nearly blew their stack. Their out-of-pocket expenses had skyrocketed a stunning 433 percent in 12 months.

At first, they couldn't figure out why. The treatment was the same. The doctor was the same. Their insurance was the same. The patient was the same.

Then it hit them: the only difference was the hospital.

"We thought maybe at that point they had made a mistake," Brandon said.

There was no mistake. In June 2012, Kosair Children's Hospital billed $1,560 for Amos's ear tubes. One year later, Jewish Hospital billed $5,260 for the identical procedure. The McGrews' share went from $239 to $1,274.

"That's just amazing to me," Brandon said. "I cannot believe that."

Crystal called Jewish Hospital to complain and was told she should have done more research. "I guess looking back on it, I wish I had," she said.

The best way to do that is to contact hospital billing departments to find out what they charge for a procedure. Federal law requires them to tell you. Then compare those numbers to figures provided on websites like Healthcare Bluebook, which independently calculate fair prices.

These days, many insurance carriers are also providing cost estimate tools on their websites, as well. To check out Anthem Blue Cross's price comparison tool, click here.

You can also search the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for price comparisons for the 100 most common Medicare inpatient services at thousands of hospitals nationwide, including those here in Louisville.

Briggs Cochran, an attorney and medical cost consultant, said with rising deductibles and co-pays, consumer awareness is more important than ever.

"Nobody spends someone else's money as carefully as they spend their own," Cochran said, "and it varies. You might find one hospital that might be lower on putting tubes in a child's ear, yet they might be higher on a tonsillectomy."

The McGrews are still paying off their hospital bills from Jewish, the unexpected costs, hitting them like a runaway train.

"We were naive about it," Brandon said. "We didn't have the information"

In a statement, Jewish Hospital's parent company, KentuckyOne Health, said, "Medical charges vary by hospital and by procedure because they reflect the individual hospital's mission, patient population and reimbursement levels. KentuckyOne Health encourages all patients to ask questions in advance. Our patient advocate team will review the expected costs, individual coverage and deductibles to give patients an estimate of out of pocket expenses. Becoming an informed medical consumer prevents financial surprises so the patient can focus on getting better."

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