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I'm a Doctor and Here's the #1 Trick For Keeping Medical Bills Low

Doctor explains why medical bills are so high and how to keep down the costs. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Getting sick shouldn't have to be so stressful financially, but it is for many Americans. It's bad enough to not feel well, but getting a shockingly high bill after a trip to the hospital or doctor's office afterwards makes it worse. The U.S. has been dealing with rising healthcare costs and insurance premieres for years and it doesn't look like it's getting better anytime soon. In fact, "Fully half of Americans now carry medical debt, up from 46% in 2020, according to new data from, a consumer financial education company, "Forbes reports. "More than half (57%) of Americans with medical debt owe at least $1,000, driven by diagnostic tests, hospitalizations, and emergency room visits, the survey showed." To find out how to save on healthcare costs, Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a  Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies who revealed her tricks for saving on medical bills.  Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Why Are Medical Bills So High?

According to Dr. Mitchell, "There are many reasons for high medical bills, but the main reason is that healthcare costs have been rising much faster than inflation for many years. National health spending is projected to grow at an average annual rate of 5.4 percent for 2019-28 and reach $6.2 trillion by 2028, and this increase in spending will hit the consumer's pockets.'


Cash is King (Well, Sometimes)

Woiman sitting at the table worrying about the money.

"Sometimes it pays to pay cash for services," says Dr. Mitchell. "The consumer has to reach a specific threshold/deductible for some plans until their insurance kicks in. Many providers would gladly avoid the 'middleman' and get paid at the point of care for their services. They will often discount those who are willing to pay cash. There is some debate about the ethics of having different prices for insurance-paid and cash-paid services, but this is just the reality of the world we live in. The trend for larger companies is to demand that the providers charge more for their services to cover the increased cost of health insurance. This will eventually lead to increased prices for the consumer. The only way to avoid these price hikes is to pay cash for services. This may seem like an inconvenience, but it might be your best option in the long run."


Keep a Healthy Lifestyle

Senior couple cooking healthy food and drinking red wine at house kitchen.

Dr. Mitchell states, "Frankly, the majority of illnesses are somewhat preventable. Kick those unhealthy habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and a sedentary lifestyle. All of these could lead to much higher medical bills in the long term. If exercising daily, reducing stress, eating a balanced nutritious diet, avoiding smoking and alcohol and drugs could significantly reduce your chance of a massive heart attack or a cancer diagnosis, would you make healthier life choices? Many insurance plans have limits on what they would payout, and you don't want to be in a decision where you have to decide about helping your child go to university or paying for medical expenses. Making healthy life choices is not only crucial to our long-term health, but it is also essential for our day-to-day lives. When we feel good physically, it shows in our mood and interactions with others. We are more productive at work, have more patience with those around us, and feel happier. Living a long and healthy life should be everyone's goal; however, making the necessary changes can be daunting. There are many small ways to improve our overall health without making significant commitments. Taking a break every hour to walk around the office or do some stretches can help reduce stress levels and alert us. Eating smaller meals throughout the day instead of three large ones will help regulate blood sugar levels." 

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Be an Informed Consumer

Smiling young doctor giving health card to a patient

Dr. Mitchell says, "get organized and be an informed healthcare consumer. This includes understanding your insurance plan, what services are covered/not covered, and familiarizing yourself with the provider network for your plan. It is also helpful to understand standard medical billing terms so that you can reduce the chances of an unexpected bill. For example, "copay" is the amount you pay for a service at the time of visit, "deductible" is the amount you must pay each year before your insurance company begins to reimburse you, and "coinsurance" is the percentage of costs that you are responsible for after meeting your deductible. Also, it's essential to weigh in the difference between a Preferred Provider Organization (PP0) versus a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO). When it comes to health insurance, two types should be considered. A PPO provides some coverage outside your network, which may not always work out in the best interest of patients since they're required to pay higher monthly premiums with this type of plan- but if you want more flexibility and choice, then an HMO is perfect! This is an area where you should do your careful research and get sound advice before deciding."

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Understanding Your Options

doctor showing her patient life insurance policy

Dr. Mitchell explains, "Understanding the available options will allow for a more informed decision when purchasing health insurance. It's essential not only to research what is out there but also compare insurance plans against other plans. The costs must be clear in your mind and can't be misconstrued as being expensive just because one method may seem pricey compared with another option that might have lower premiums or better benefits-to-illness ratios. You have options when it comes to the healthcare system. You don't need to accept your doctor's first opinion; you can go elsewhere and find one that will work better for you – not just because they're more convenient or have an office close by! There are plenty out there with different views on how things should be done which may offer valuable insight into what would help relieve some symptoms while still keeping others at bay; maybe this new clinic has some innovative treatment plan specifically tailored towards yours? The key thing is taking charge of things, so ultimately make ourselves happier when something affects both mind AND body equally."

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Go Through Your Bills Carefully and Promptly

Surprised senior mature woman counting bills at home.

Dr. Mitchell reminds us, "To err is human, but seriously, who wants to pay more for their health care bill than they should be. I know I don't! Medical professionals are people too, and sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes the wrong CPT code (Current Procedures Technology)is given to an insurance company, or dates get confused in transit between provider offices/medical facilities where care was provided (the patient). It can happen when submitting bills as well, especially if more than one person is doing it by hand. But, seriously, have you read some of the care provider's handwriting? As much as you might not like paying these bills, it is essential to go through them as soon as possible. You don't want to be stuck with an unfair statement, but because you waited too long to address it, you are now responsible for it. Or, perhaps life happens, and you experience a period of hardship, and you cannot afford to pay the bill in total; some providers are willing and able to help you with a payment option." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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