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Money August 2016

Dollar Sense

July Potpourri: Your Health – Check Billings, Cut Costs, Heed Warnings

By Teresa Ambord

A professional medical billing advocate says “eight out of 10 bills have overcharges on them – you can save 17% to 49% just by looking at each line and checking to see if you’re being billed for medications you didn’t take or tests you didn’t undergo.”

Ask Your Doctor or Dentist for a Discount. If you’re paying a medical or dental bill yourself, ask for a discount. It often pays off, medical billing advocate Pat Palmer says – they may negotiate if you offer something, like quicker payment in 10 days or so. That may net you 10% to 25% off.

Get an Estimate on a Medical Procedure. If you’re like me, you might be reluctant to go to your doctor for a procedure, because you don’t know what you’ll be charged… kind of like car repairs. You may be able to get a ballpark cost by going to or This will give you an idea of what providers typically charge for dental services or medical procedures, x-rays, MRIs, etc.

Don’t Overpay for Medical Treatment: Check Your Bills. When you receive a medical bill a hospital stay or treatment, take time to go over it line by line. Pat Palmer, a professional medical billing advocate, says “eight out of 10 bills have overcharges on them – you can save 17% to 49% just by looking at each line and checking to see if you’re being billed for medications you didn’t take or tests you didn’t undergo.”

Some charges are easy to dispute, like “gloves and gowns” and “oral administration fees” (which means a nurse gave a patient a pill… for a fee) said Palmer. If you’re not sure what a charge means, don’t call customer service at the hospital, instead call the nurse’s station and describe the charge. They’re more likely to know what it means. There are firms that can help you dispute charges for a percentage of the amount you save (and no charge if you save nothing).

You may be asking why you should do this if your bills are covered by Medicare. Thieves steal millions every year from Medicare, which is taxpayer funded. The evidence often appears on the billing statements of legitimate Medicare patients, who don’t take time to look at the details. Some people have had their accounts used to bill for tens of thousands of dollars in treatments not received or requested. Taking a moment to look at your statements may stop thieves from depleting the Medicare system.

Eyeglasses for Less. If you’re on original Medicare (Parts A and B) and medigap supplemental plans, you know you’re mostly on your own when it comes to vision care. There’s no coverage for routine eye exams, and a basic pair of eyeglasses can easily cost $200. But some Medicare Advantage (part C) plans do have vision coverage. If this is important to you, when open enrollment rolls around (October 15 to December 7) you may want to switch from original Medicare to an Advantage plan.

Or, you can buy a policy yourself, by going to Plans are fairly cheap, possibly around $9 a month. Just make sure, before you sign up, that the benefit you’ll get is worth the premiums and copay if there is one.

Your eye doctor is legally obligated to give you a free copy of your prescription, so that you can shop for a better deal. (It’s called the Eyeglass Rule, from the Federal Trade Commission.)

If you want to buy your eyeglasses online, once you have your prescription from your eye doctor, you’ll also need your papillary distance number. That’s the distance, measured in millimeters, between the centers of your pupils in each eye. Ask your doctor for that. Then you can purchase glasses online for much less at stores like:,, and, some for only $7 plus shipping. Fancier choices are available at

Or conversely, if your income is quite low, check with your local Lions Club. They may be able to help you get a free or low-cost eye exam. Or, go to New Eyes (, 973-376-4903), a nonprofit organization that provides free eyeglasses through a voucher program to people in financial need.


Drug Combinations Fatal for Many Seniors (Even Over-the-Counter)

Reader’s Digest reports that a rapidly increasing number of seniors (age 62 to 85) use combinations of prescription and over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements that can be fatal. While we might stop to consider whether two prescription drugs we take would interact badly, most of us would probably assume there was no harm in combining prescription drugs with something available without a prescription… let’s say, cold medicine or vitamins. A study done by the University of Chicago says this number has doubled in the last five years.

You can also check interactions yourself by typing the names of drugs you take into this website: However, the study urges people to check with doctors about the medicine interactions.


Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

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