Finding health care at a discount

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by JANET ST. JAMES / WFAA-TV

wfaa.com

Posted on November 16, 2009 at 4:41 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 17 at 10:54 AM

In Texas, one in four is uninsured.

Millions more are under-insured, facing huge deductibles or coverage loopholes.

Family practice physician Dr. Scott Conard said he's been surprised by reaction of many patients after he recommends an important test.

"They say, 'I can't do it.' And that's been really this year, as we've seen the economic downturn," Dr. Conard said.

That's why he came up with the Health Star Alliance, a network of hundreds of North Texas doctors and medical facilities offering a self-pay discount program.

Under the plan, Dr. Conard tests are billed at cost or just slightly above. "That will allow your patients that haven't had their tests done, get it done," he explained.

The discounts last only for a limited time, but apply to more than a dozen popular procedures — from prostate screening to blood tests to lap band surgery.

It's designed to help the growing number of people — either without insurance or with high deductibles — who must pay up-front for health care.

News 8 did some price comparisons to determine whether the Health Star Alliance deals really are good.

The Alliance brochure offers a lap band surgery at the discount rate of $9,990. We found the same procedure for hundreds less — $9,500 at the Bariatric Surgery Center of Dallas.

A colonoscopy discounted to $899 by Alliance members costs just $13 more at Baylor Garland.

But a DEXA bone density screening offered by the Cooper Clinic for $420, costs just $49 with the discount program.

Consumers, however, should be aware that discounts for cash are common. Most hospitals and medical facilities offer cash prices, which are almost always cheaper than insurance or medicaid costs.

"If you're going to get a cash quote," explained Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council CEO Steve Love, "you're not going to necessarily get the same everywhere, because each hospital is different; each provider is different."

Love said cash-paying patients can often negotiate an even better price.

"Ask questions, do your homework," he advised.

Homework is exactly what Keith Waddill did before scheduling his discount cholesterol test.

"Some other places I checked into wanted like $160-$200 to get the three tests they're offering," he said.

Waddill got his blood tests for about $30. Like many on a tight budget, the 26-year-old salesman can't afford to have his hard-earned money bled dry by high-priced medical care.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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