Surgery Center Network offers low-cost surgery options

I have known for a while about the Surgery Center Network, a web site that connects self-pay patients (as well as some third-party payers such as employers and even a couple of insurance companies) with ambulatory surgical centers, which are basically small, specialized surgical facilities. The reason I’ve held off on writing about them has been that the web site seemed to still be in its ‘beta’ stage, with a lot of functionality still undone. Without a fully or at least mostly functioning site, I didn’t think it was worth writing it up.

I’m pleased to say that the Surgery Center Network web site now is up and running well enough that it should be easy enough for anyone wanting to find inexpensive surgical options.

First, a word about ambulatory surgical centers. These facilities have been around for more than four decades, and are a well-established part of the health care world. The Ambulatory Surgical Center Association (ASCA) describes them as follows:

Ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) are health care facilities that offer patients the convenience of having surgeries and procedures performed safely outside the hospital setting…

Forty years ago, virtually all surgery was performed in hospitals. Waits of weeks or months for an appointment were not uncommon, and patients typically spent several days in the hospital and several weeks out of work in recovery. In many countries, surgery is still performed this way, but not in the US… The first facility was opened in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1970 by two physicians who saw an opportunity to establish a high-quality, cost-effective alternative to inpatient hospital care for surgical services. Faced with frustrations like scheduling delays, limited operating room availability, slow operating room turnover times, and challenges in obtaining new equipment due to hospital budgets and policies, physicians were looking for a better way―and developed it in ASCs. Continue reading

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A few of my favorite things – NeedyMeds

Regular readers of The Self-Pay Patient blog know that I’m a big fan of an organization called NeedyMeds,* which focuses on helping patients obtain needed medical care that they might not otherwise be able to afford.

NeedyMeds started with a focus on assisting patients access the patient assistance programs offered by nearly ever prescription drug manufacturer offers (and it could be all of them, I’m just covering my bases in case there’s one or two that don’t). These patient assistance programs typically offer low-cost or even free medicine to patients who can’t afford them at the retail price.

The organization has expanded over the years, and now offers patients assistance across a broad range of areas, including free health clinics, disease-specific support programs, and a charity funding site for medical bills. They have a series of short videos (most of them are about 3 ½ minutes long) that explain their various programs, and I thought I’d share several of them with readers of The Self-Pay Patient.

Free Clinics

Continue reading

Posted in Charity Care, Negotiating Medical Bills, Prescription Drugs | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Health insurance market closed to most, now what?

As a general rule I try not to discuss Obamacare (officially the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or PPACA) here on The Self-Pay Patient blog. I have plenty of other outlets to share my views on that law, and this blog is supposed to be focused on how self-pay patients can find affordable care, whether they’re uninsured, have a high deductible plan, or have more comprehensive coverage but their insurer won’t cover a particular treatment or provider.

But Obamacare is a central feature of today’s health care system, and it’s just not possible to completely avoid the subject here. So today I want to address one of the problems that Obamacare has created for people wanting to buy health insurance, and what some solutions might be.

The problem is pretty basic – the ‘open enrollment’ period for people to buy health insurance is now over (well there’s still some leeway for people who tried to sign up but couldn’t because of technical difficulties, or who at least claim they tried), meaning that it is effectively impossible for many, perhaps most, people to buy health insurance until the next open enrollment period rolls around (November 15, 2014 thru February 15, 2015).  Continue reading

Posted in Affordable Care Act, Critical Illness, Accident, & Fixed Benefit Insurance, Health Sharing Ministries, Medical Tourism, Negotiating Medical Bills, Prescription Drugs | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Ocean Surgery Center offers cash prices on the West Coast

I’ve written about and mentioned on several occasions two surgical facilities that offer cash prices for self-pay patients, the Surgery Center of Oklahoma and Regency Healthcare in New York City. These are places that offer up-front, all-inclusive prices for routine surgical procedures including hernia repair, rotator cuff repair, carpal tunnel release, pacemaker placement, hysterectomy, and knee replacement.

Because most hospitals use ‘chargemaster’ prices for self-pay patients, which are typically three to five times more than what insurers pay for the same treatment, going to a facility like Surgery Center of Oklahoma or Regency Healthcare is probably the easiest way to save money on hospital or surgical treatment without  leaving the country.

One problem of course is that there aren’t a lot of places like Surgery Center of Oklahoma and Regency Healthcare, and until a few days ago I didn’t know of any on the West Coast. Fortunately I recently received an e-mail letting me know about Ocean Surgery Center, located in Torrance, California, in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Like Surgery Center of Oklahoma and Regency Healthcare, Ocean Surgery Center offers cash prices for dozens of common procedures. Looking at the prices offered, they seem fairly comparable to a little bit higher than those charged by Surgery Center of Oklahoma. For example, hernia repairs at Surgery Center of Oklahoma range from $3,060 to $4,500 depending on the type, patients at Regency Healthcare would pay between $4,800 and $6,200, and at Ocean Surgery Center hernia repairs range from $3,840 to $6,950. Continue reading

Posted in Hospitals, Medical Tourism, Price Transparency, Surgery | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Another way to save on prescription drugs – buy ‘over the counter’ meds

I’ve probably written as many blog posts on how self-pay patients can save money on prescription drugs as I have on any other topic. But I ran across a video at Consumer Reports yesterday that pointed out another very simple cost-saving method to saving money on medicines: just buy an ‘over the counter’ (OTC) drug that doesn’t require a prescription.

This video reminded me of something one of my former employers, a Congressman who had been a surgeon before he was elected, told me about prescription medications and television advertising. I’m paraphrasing what he said, but it was basically “people with a condition see ads with healthy-looking, active persons described as having that same condition, and they go to their doctor and won’t leave until they get a prescription for that drug.” He went on to explain that since insurance was paying for the medicine, the fact that a much cheaper OTC medicine without a great advertising campaign would do just as well was of little interest to the patient, and as long as the prescription medicine would treat the condition the doctor would often write the prescription just to keep the patient happy and get them out of their office.

Self-pay patients, of course, don’t have the luxury of an insurance company picking up the tab for all of the well-marketed drugs that might treat their conditions. So looking at a cheaper but just as effective OTC drug might be the best way to go.

The video, which I’ve included below, explains that for many common ailments, like heartburn, allergies, and pain, OTC medicines can often be used instead of prescription drugs.

For example, Nexium, which is used to treat heartburn, would cost about $255 after a discount at the local Walmart, according to (that’s for 30 capsules at 40mg). For less than $20, I can pick up 28 pills of Prilosec OTC at Walmart without a prescription. That’s a pretty big savings!

Obviously for some people or some conditions the prescription medicine is still going to be the best option, and I would not recommend  you ignore your doctor’s prescription in favor of an OTC medication. But before you ask your doctor for a prescription, ask if there are any OTC medicines available that will do the job.

I’d encourage you to watch the video, it’s just a few minutes and could save you a bundle!

Also, I would strongly encourage you to check out the Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs section, a tremendous resource for information on prescription and OTC medicines.

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Excellent article about medical tourism

Several months ago I had a guest blog post from Kevin Mercadante, who runs the terrific blog He wrote an article for his readers that he allowed me to repost here titled ‘What to do if you absolutely can’t afford health insurance.’ Kevin’s blog features a lot of topics, with a focus on how to save money when buying goods and services.

This morning I found another great post from Kevin, this one  on the blog (the PF stands for personal finance, as near as I can tell). The article is ‘What is medical tourism… and why is it becoming popular?’ and it gives an excellent overview of this industry. Needless to say, for self-pay patients (including many of those with health insurance who either have high deductibles or find that a needed treatment isn’t covered or available) the option of medical tourism can literally be a lifesaving one, not to mention a financially attractive one.

Here are a few excerpts from Kevin’s article, I highly recommend you read the whole thing!

Rising healthcare costs are forcing modern consumers to search for different ways to reduce expenses and still get the medical service they need. In recent years another solution has appeared. Medical tourism has people living in one country and traveling to another to seek medical, dental and surgical care…

There’s actually nothing new about medical tourism. The direction of the flow is what is new. Historically, people from poor countries traveled to wealthy ones in search of advanced medical attention. The flow is reversing today, as people from wealthy countries now hunt healthcare in less developed areas where it’s less expensive… Continue reading

Posted in Medical Tourism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Media looking for self-pay patients to interview

I don’t normally do announcements or requests through the blog, but hey, it’s my blog, so I guess if I want to I can!

Anyways, I just spoke with a reporter for a major national newspaper, she is looking for people who have elected to opt-out of Obamacare to interview. She’s interested in people who’ve opted out for any reason, including religious, financial, political, ideological, practical, or any other reason.

Please contact me directly at selfpaypatient [a] if you would be willing to talk to her, and I’ll pass your contact information along. Thanks in advance to anyone who is willing to do this!

Posted in Affordable Care Act | 1 Comment

March notes from The Self Pay Patient

Once again I find myself with a stack of items that aren’t necessarily worth a full blog post on their own (or at least, I don’t have the time at the moment to give them the attention they deserve in a full blog post) but that I thought should be passed along. So here’s a few items that are currently cluttering my inbox/to-write-about list:

I’m ‘uninsured’ and quite happy about it

I’ve mentioned it a few places, in interviews or online, including The Self-Pay Patient Facebook page I think, but as of January 1 I have left bureaucratic medicine behind and joined a health care sharing ministry. I’d previously been on the high-deductible plan offered through my wife’s employer, but no more. I’ve generally elected not to share which ministry I’ve gone with because I don’t want anyone to think I favor one over the others – they’re all outstanding options in my opinion. I chose the one that I thought fit my own needs, budget, and preferences, as I encourage everyone to do. And that includes getting conventional or high-deductible insurance through your employer or an Obamacare exchange, if that’s what makes the most sense for you.  Continue reading

Posted in Critical Illness, Accident, & Fixed Benefit Insurance, Health Sharing Ministries, Telemedicine | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Medibid patient explains his experience

One of my favorite services for self-pay patients is Medibid, which allows doctors to bid on providing medical treatments for patients. Back in December, in a blog post on medical tourism, I included the case of Perry Hunt, a 50-year old in California who needed hip replacement surgery. This is the description that originally appeared in a Men’s Health article, which I pasted into my post:

This past June, MediBid helped Perry Hunt, a 50-year-old home developer in Orange County, California, get a new right hip in Texas. Hunt’s local surgeon said the operation would cost $100,000. Hunt was uninsured and did not want to pay that. MediBid had found quotes for India ($8,000), another hospital in California an hour from Hunt’s home ($14,450), and one in San Antonio ($21,000).

Hunt did not want to travel overseas. And even though the Texas surgery would cost far more than the nearby California alternative, he chose to go there because the doctor could perform the procedure with an anterior approach, going in through the front of the hip rather than the buttocks or side, and avoiding cutting through muscle, which makes for less trauma to the body and a speedier recovery…. Hunt was back to playing golf within four months. “I was up walking the very next day,” says Hunt. “I was able to go home the day following surgery, as well, and was given exercises as my rehab. I couldn’t be happier with the results of my experience and the surgery”

Hunt has now done a video describing his experience, which runs about 25 minutes. I thought it would be worth posting here so you can see him talk about how he wound up going through Medibid, his experiences as a self-pay patient, and the quality of the care he received. So here it is:

Posted in Negotiating Medical Bills, Price Transparency | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Florida hospital backs away from price transparency

A story caught my eye this morning regarding a Florida hospital that had at one point promised to post the prices they charged insurance companies online, but is now backing away from that decision.

For self-pay patients, of course, getting accurate and up-front prices for hospital care is vital. Hospital care tends to be the most expensive type of care, and is also usually for the treatment of the most serious medical conditions, illnesses, and injuries. So the lack of real prices can pose a real problem for self-pay patients.

Most people reading this story I suspect will come away with the impression that the hospital had no alternative to dropping their price transparency plans, and believe it is a shame they’re doing so. I’m pretty sure that first impression will be the wrong one, and the second is somewhat dubious as well.

Here’s the story that caught my eye, in Becker’s Hospital Review:

Post Your Price: It’s Not So Simple for Hospital Executives

…Mr. Sonenreich, president and CEO of Mount Sinai Medical Center, a teaching hospital in Miami Beach, Fla., pledged in a local radio interview to post the rates of what the hospital charges private health insurers.

“We will post our prices relative to Blue Cross, and Aetna, our contractual prices…” he said…  Continue reading

Posted in Hospitals, Price Transparency | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment