These questions your doctor or healthcare provider should be able to answer for you at your doctor's appointments.
1. How much will this test/surgery/exam cost? - Your doctor should give you a ballpark range or the cash price at the center where he or she refers to. If they say “I don't know” or “It depends on your insurance” are not answers. Before you schedule anything major, use one of the price calculators to get a ballpark range of what your test or treatment should cost in your area.
2. How will this test/surgery/exam change my treatment? - Take a pass if your doctor says “It won't, but it might be good to know.” The doctors feel like they have to order or do something if you have a complaint, especially at a time when office visits can cost over $500.
3. Which blood test are you ordering? What X-ray? Why? - A doctor will become more discerning when you ask more questions. They are just ticking off boxes on a long electronic checklist, with no awareness of how much any might cost.
4. Are there cheaper alternatives that are equally good, or nearly so? - If you go to a pharmacy or a lab encounter a high, price, call your doctor's office and tell him or her about it. Force your doctor to learn. He or she likely don't know.
5. Where will this test/surgery/exam be performed – at the hospital, at a surgery center, or in the office – and how does the place impact the prices? - Doctors often practice and do procedures in different places on different days of the week. For example if you go on a Tuesday and that happens to be your doctor's day at the hospital, it could double the price of your biopsy or colonsocpy. If they refer you to an ambulatory surgery center, ask, “Are you an owner?” A little shaming might encourage better behavior.
6. Who else will be involved in my treatment? Will I be getting a separate bill for another provider? Can you recommened someone in my insurancce network? - Avoid a lot of unexpected charges up front by making sure that whoever is involved in your care is in your insurer's netweork.
Next week will be about the value of waiting before seeking treatment. This will be part 2: system change: what we want from doctors.