The number one reason people go to a doctor is for back pain, and it is expensive. In the U.S. the estimated annual Worker’s Compensation insurance cost for back pain is $20-$50 billion; out-of-pocket annual expenditure is $5-8 billion.
If you have dealt with large medical expenses getting your low back pain treated in the past, you can count on those expenses to recur because that is the nature of back pain; back problems slowly deteriorate over time. Or, if this is your first back pain episode and you don’t have insurance or the cash to take care of your problem, this cost cutting information is also helpful because it can be used to help an acute (recent) low back flare up as well a chronic (longstanding and recurrent) back problem.
1. Take better care of your back. Lose some weight, follow a low-impact exercise program, do low back stretches and quit smoking. Besides having less back pain you will save money on doctor bills all your life.
2. Do not go to the doctor immediately unless you have a high fever or bleeding with your back pain. For the first two weeks treat your problem conservatively at home. Doctors prescribe standard medical treatment of rest, ice and over-the-counter drugs, resulting in 94% of cases getting well in less than two weeks. Do all these things on your own and skip the office call. If pain persists after two weeks on this program, then go to the doctor.
3. Avoid the ER for common back complaints, if at all possible. ER costs are higher and billing errors are more frequent than in the doctor’s office.
4. Avoid the doctor’s office for common back complaints, if at all possible. For simple back strains or flare-ups of known arthritis complaints, consider using the walk-in clinic at your local drug store staffed with a physician’s assistant. The cost to be seen is the lowest you will find in your area, and you will not wait as long to be seen. If anything serious is detected you will be referred immediately for appropriate care.
5. Avoid expensive back massages. Try lying down on a tennis ball that puts pressure on the painful area of your low back, or have your spouse use the tip of the elbow to rub painful back muscles.
6. Be upfront about finances. Ask the doctor for a discount, not the receptionist who can’t cut your bill. If you are short on cash, or you have a sky-high insurance deductible, say so. A Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive study found 60% of patients who negotiated with their doctors received a discount.
7. Ask your doctor why a test is necessary. Maybe it can be done later or avoided if you respond to current treatment. Talk to your doctor about medical costs and explain if a procedure is more than you can afford.
8. Ask your doctor for free drug samples to see if the muscle relaxers or pain pills will actually work for you or if you have side effects, before buying the drug.
9. Read medical bills carefully. A staggering 80% of office and hospital bills contain some kind of error; of these errors, 80% work against the patient.
10. Read your insurance benefits booklet carefully to make sure your plan is paying all it should.
11. Switch to a high deductible insurance plan.
12. Use a discount club or a la carte insurance for specialized care. If you must get private health insurance, save money with plans that offer the specific benefits you need like acupuncture or chiropractic care for your back problem. Members save 50-60% on discounted rates after paying a $12-30 monthly membership fee.
13. Join the Farm Bureau for about $30-50 annually. You do not have to be a farmer to join, and you will receive many benefits like discounted group health insurance in many states. This is especially good for the self-employed.
14. Grab valuable insurance plan extra. Many health plans offer free 24/7 telephone access to RNs who can guide your low back treatment with professional advice.
15. Flex your spending muscles. If your employer provides a flexible spending account (FSA), use it. FSAs are tax-sheltered accounts that you fund at the beginning of the year to pay for all out-of-pocket medical costs.
16. Don’t accept rejection. If your insurance doesn’t pay for a service, appeal the decision or contact your state insurance commission.
17. Ask for a generic drug prescription to lower drug costs. Many pharmacies, including those at Target and Wal-Mart, offer $4 generics.
18. Compare drug costs with Costco or Sam’s Club, even if you are not a member.
19. Use the mail-order pharmacy of your insurance plan to get 90 days’ worth of prescriptions for two co-pays.
20. Follow all insurance policy rules. Get preapproval for all procedures and referrals to specialists for no surprises or fights later on.
21. Stay in your insurance company network of doctors for best savings. Also, double-check that your doctor is still in your insurance plan’s network since these things change.
22. Use the toll-free phone number to call your insurance company.