How I Saved $1,000 On Medical Tests

We all struggle with medical care costs, and I can show you how I found a way to save a tremendous amount of money on “routine” tests.

I struggle with gout.  It’s a terrible disease that tends to attack toes, resulting in swelling and agonizing pain.  I take one pill every day that helps diminish the chances of outbreaks and have had to learn to minimize my love affair with peanut butter.  My mother had the same problem, and there appears to be a genetic predisposition to the illness.  The true culprit is more likely the blood pressure meds I take than the peanut butter, but eliminating the meds isn’t a good plan.

Attacks of gout are caused by the build-up of uric acid in the blood.  The pill I take each day is supposed to help keep the level of uric acid at a minimum, and my doctor had to steadily increase the grams in the pills until the med was effective enough.  I still have minor problems from time to time, although it now tends to attack the small toes on my right foot instead of the large toes on my left foot.

In order to make sure my uric acid levels are under control, a simple blood test is necessary.  Since I’m also getting up in years, the nurse practitioner I see periodically also wants to check a ton of other levels in my blood.  As long as we can hold it to one vial of my blood I can usually survive a blood test once a year or so.

And then a few years ago when I got a surprise from our insurance company.

In the past, the blood test was always covered as part of a doctor visit, but for reasons the stone wall at the insurance company could never make clear, suddenly the blood test was no longer treated as part of the doctor visit.  It apparently was also not wellness care, because shortly after the test was done I received a bill for nearly a thousand dollars.  Nobody gave me any reason to expect a bill, and I was left with no choice but to pay up.  Sure, I got to pay it off interest-free over the next year, but I still had to pay the bill.

Can you imagine shopping at the grocery store and getting home and getting a bill for an extra $100 to cover the labor of stocking the shelves with the items you bought?  That’s what this bill felt like – a complete, unexpected smack right between the eyes.

The next time my doctor gave me a script to get the blood tests I politely declined.  The doctor was surprised and apologized for the expense the year before.  There was no way she could have known how the insurance company would deal with the test either, but she understood my reticence to spend that kind of money again.

So she gave me an alternative.

Community Hospital in Anderson is one of our two major hospitals.  It’s a sprawling complex, with numerous outbuildings full of specialists of all sorts.  It turns out that behind the complex is an unmarked building that runs special tests for patients.  The paperwork I have for it shows the treatments as still being part of Community Hospital.  There is a single sheet of prices under the heading of “Wellness for You” that lists prices that are very, very different from the prices charged at either my doctor’s office or in the hospital proper.  Here’s a copy of the sheet.

Instead of costing $1,000, a CBC (complete blood count) is a mere $20.  Other bargains include glucose testing for diabetics for only $10, a test that Bevie needs from time to time since she’s developed Type 2 Diabetes.

How can they charge so much less?  Perhaps the answer is in the statements you have to initial on the form; here are a few of the more relevant statements:

  • I understand that results are to be mailed to me within 5 working days.
  • I understand that if I want a copy of these results to go to my doctor, I am responsible for giving him/her a copy.
  • I understand that I cannot bill my insurance for this testing, and I will not receive a bill for this service, only a receipt for payment.

Add in the stipulation that they only accept cash, no checks or credit cards, and the way they keep costs down becomes clear: the tests are performed outside of the doctor and insurance spheres that make up our current health care system.  No reporting, no billing, just a simple transaction of cash for service.

Is there a similar “hidden” building for x-rays and MRIs?  Probably, but I haven’t needed those recently, so that probably bears looking into.  Probably should look into that -before- I need them!  I know that there are fee-for-service specialty businesses popping up that operate at much lower costs for treatments and tests; next time your doctor wants to run -any- tests you should probably shop around and find out what the costs are.

If we want to control health costs, it’s increasingly important that we take responsibility for shopping around ourselves, no matter what health system Washington presents us with over the next few years.

The Ojays have their thoughts turning to Money today as well!

How About Some Financial Health Insurance?

June 27 is is #FinHealthMatters Day for 2017.  You can join the movement to show what #finhealth means to you.  To me, it simply means being able to continue living within my means.

Almost half the adults in the country struggle to have enough income to pay their expenses, and unfortunately, there are really only two ways to deal with that problem:

  1. Raise your income.
  2. Lower your expenses.

A great first step it to simply set up a budget and follow it for a few months so you discover what your income and expenses really are, and then look for ways to stop any leaks.

There is an endless supply of online articles about lowering your expenses, but most of them focus on little things like eating out less or reducing cable or phone expenses.

While every little bit helps, I’ve got one suggestion that has worked for me that has a much larger impact: the last time I bought a new car was 1975 (when I bought a brand-new Plymouth Duster for about $2,400).  Ever since then I’ve simply bought cars that tended to be a few years old, usually paid cash for them, and driven them until the wheels were ready to fall off.  I’ve only driven six or seven different cards in over 40 years, and the last few were simply cars Bevie was replacing with something newer.  The strangest car I drove in that period was a hearse, and I wasn’t entirely sad to watch it towed away when its break linings went bad.

What’s the longest period you ever when without a car payment?  Wasn’t your budget easier to manage during that time?  Think of how much money you could save over a lifetime if you stretched that out.

The average car now costs over $33,000, almost $4,000 more than I paid for my first house.  The really bad news is that the average car loan is now approaching 72 months.While the average interest rate is below 4%, consumers with FICO credit scores less than 620 pay rates of 9% to 14%,

While the average car loan interest rate is below 4%, consumers with FICO credit scores less than 620 can pay rates of 9% to 14%, putting even more stress on their budget.

The largest debts people have are typically housing, student loans, and car loans.  Perhaps instead of reading a few articles on ten ways to save money in your budget, you should spend a little more time looking for ways to get the last piece of that trio under control.

With a more entertaining story about cars, here’s Johnny Cash singing about another way to get a car.

A Different Kind of Billion Dollar Idea

From time to time I post a billion dollar idea that merely requires the application of non-trivial resources.  Today I want to report on an idea somebody else had and suggest that you help them reach a goal.

Helping people stuck in poverty is a challenge we can’t easily overcome, but in 2005 a new non-profit group was founded that enables anybody to help.  Kiva makes small loans (from under $1,000 to just a few thousand dollars) to entrepreneurs who need money to start or expand their business.  While most of the loans seem to be targeted to third world countries, there are even some loans made in the United States.

Kiva takes money from donors (like me!) and lends it out to various recipients in over 80 different countries.  Kiva does not make all the loans directly themselves, but they also support a large number of other organizations that they have vetted and worked with successfully (similar to the way Second Harvest supplies food to other food banks that actually distribute the food).

Over 97% of the loans made through Kiva have been repaid, an exceptionally high rate for small businesses.  To reduce possible exposure for individual investors, Kiva usually only applies a fixed amount of $25 to a specific loan (you can loan more than that to a specific individual or group, but I’ve never tried to do that).  Thus, to fund a loan for $1,000, Kiva puts $25 loans together from a group of about 40 individuals.  Details about the loan process are shown here.

All the loans have been investigated and approved before Kiva lists them on their website.  You can easily browse the loans that are awaiting full funding.  For each loan, Kiva shows some useful details:

  • a picture of the person or group asking for a loan
  • what the loan will be used for
  • the amount that has been pledged so far
  • the remaining amount that Kiva needs to complete the loan
  • if available, how much of your donation will be matched

You can search for loans using a large number of categories, including retailers, agriculture, water and sanitation, men or women, groups, single parents, and you can even search loans that are closest to being fully funded.

Note that I refer to the amounts you put up as donations.  In actuality, you are making loans, not donations, and most of the money will probably be returned as the borrower uses the money to enhance their livelihood.  You get an email every time one of your loans gets a repayment. No interest is charged the borrower or paid to you, but seriously, when was the last time a bank paid you any appreciable amount of interest on the money you left in your checking and savings accounts?  Once the loan is repaid you can certainly have Kiva pay it back to you, but it’s a lot easier to simply leave it with Kiva and lend it to somebody else.  Seriously, the people asking for money to buy goods or supplies or tools will make much better use of that $25 than any of us would.

My first exposure to Kiva came about when one of my sister-in-laws made a Kiva loan in my name at Christmas one year.  I’ve continued making loans as the funds are returned to my account, and from time to time I’ve added another $25.  It’s really painless for me and can be life-changing for the people who get loans from Kiva.  I’ve made hundreds of dollars in loans over the years without ever having to come up with that much money.

When making loans there are some administrative costs, but 100% of the money you lend goes directly to the recipient you choose: Kiva does not allow any of that money to go to any administrative fees.  While Kiva “suggests” an additional donation to help defray Kiva’s expenses, you never have to do that to make a loan; donations made specifically to support Kiva’s expenses eventually cover those costs.

Rather than link to a song today, I want to link to a special page from Kiva: the total loan amount Kiva has made is about to roll over to a billion dollars #1BillioninChange.  Here’s the total today; take your lunch to work for a few days, or skip a movie or two, and simply take advantage of the link on their page to make the world a little better place.

Once in a Lifetime Comic Sale

Every now and then a really nice comic comes into the store – a Giant-Sized X-Men #1 or the first Batman appearance of Ras Al-Ghul or maybe one of the old Tales of Suspense or Tales to Astonish or an early Justice League of America comic.  Not this time:

  • Amazing Fantasy #15 (first Spider-Man) CGC 3.0 Off-White Pages $12,000
  • Avengers #1 Off-White to White pages $2,500
  • Amazing Spider-Man #1 Off-White to White pages $6,000
  • Tales of Suspense #39 (first Iron Man) Slightly Brittle pages (beautiful cover)  $3,200

The comics will be on sale direct for the next week or so (shipping will be extra), and after that, they’ll be on eBay at higher prices (due to listing fees).  Contact the store directly if you are interested Reader Copies  The comics are back in the safe deposit box downtown, so if you need to see them in person or need more photos let us know.

large comic sale