'I can do this!' 3 tips for working with medical providers on your own

by Barry Clark  ·  Aug 25, 2022

Part three in a series.

In this article, we start the “I can do this!” journey with actionable tips to help you manage rising medical costs. As a reminder, in the first article in this series, CEO Mark Zander discussed the rising medical costs we all face. In the second article, he looked more closely at what Samaritan Ministries is doing to help manage those increasing costs.

As Christians in a health care sharing community, we have an obligation before God to love one another by stewarding our own personal budgets in a way that respects our fellow members’ budgets and honors God. 

We want every member to be confident enough to say, “I can do this!”

Step 1: Change your mindset. Price may not equal quality of care.

When I choose a hotel, the price is generally aligned with quality. I expect a different experience between a discount hotel room and a one-night anniversary splurge in a luxury hotel.

In health care, this is frequently NOT the case. Yet, even though we may understand this reality at some level, all of us still have a strong tendency to see price as an indicator of the quality of care.

One of our staff recently shared a story with me.

A friend recently recommended a “great value and very friendly” provider for an annual eye exam. They had been going for many years to a relatively luxurious office that charged $249 but gave a 25 percent discount for prompt self-pay. The friend’s alternative cost $69, and he was “thrilled” with the experience. In that case, the high cost did not necessarily equal high quality.

Say you’re going to your primary care physician for an annual check-up. She may be an excellent provider, and her self-pay rates are fair and competitive. But maybe the facility she uses for bloodwork charges $155. In contrast, another facility 10 minutes away charges $55 and will fax the results to your provider. And, by the way, the lab that does the work might be the same one for the other provider.

Or an experienced high-quality surgeon may charge $24,000 for a procedure at a medical center. He is flexible, however, and will perform the same procedure at a smaller facility 15 miles away for $4,999.

Step 1 in the “I can do this!” journey is to internalize and own the fact that price does NOT always mean quality.

Step 2: Start the process now.

Your car has a flat tire. It’s dark, rainy, and cold. You’re in a safe area, on the shoulder well off the road. What is your confidence level to change the tire? If you’re like most people, you need to look at the owner’s manual just to find out how to access the spare and jack, let alone change the tire. Fortunately, you did a dry run of changing the tire in the low-stress comfort of your garage. The “I can do this!” confidence of such people is off the charts. Now what is your confidence level about changing the tire?

We want every member to be confident enough to say, “I can do this!”

Our health care “I can do this!” confidence is no different. If we wait until the stressful, dark, and rainy moment of an emergency or unexpected diagnosis to consider provider options and choices, we’re dealing not only with the stress of the condition but also with the stress of provider decisions. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but other times it is not.

What you’ll want to do first is take 10 minutes and jot down your “Provider Inventory.” This should include:

  • Primary care physician(s)
  • Pediatrician
  • Gynecologist
  • Dentist
  • Eye care provider
  • Emergency room (since life happens)
  • Miscellaneous providers

Commit to taking 15 minutes a week and start making calls to your current providers and a couple of others. Use the questions below to start a conversation. Listen for opportunities to ask further probing questions. Compare their answers. This information gathering will equip you to obtain high-quality care that saves your family and your fellow Samaritan members significant money. Here are some possible questions:

For a provider you are not currently using: “I want to be a good consumer of my family’s health care budget. Can you spend a few minutes with me to help me understand your billing approach and how I can maximize the value I receive as a patient if I choose you as my provider?”

For a provider you are currently using: “Are there programs or billing/pricing options that may be available to me that I’m not taking advantage of? If so, how can I do that?”

“What is the most frequent office visit or procedure you perform? How much do you charge?”

“Is there a discount for cash-pay patients? How quickly is payment required to receive your cash-pay discount?”

Step 2 in the “I can do this!” journey is to start the process now.

Step 3: Take advantage of SMI-provided tools and support.

One essential resource for all Samaritan members in the “I can do this!” journey is Healthcare Bluebook™, which provides information on fair pricing for facilities across the nation. Access this resource via your Samaritan Dash account by going to the Health Resource Center on your Samaritan Dashboard. Access Healthcare Bluebook by clicking on the “Visit Website” link. That way, Healthcare Bluebook will recognize you as a Samaritan member.

Samaritan members have access to two Healthcare Bluebook services:

  • Use the Healthcare Bluebook tool accessed through Dash to search and explore high-quality care and fair-priced options. Choose a care or procedure, enter your ZIP code, and you will often be presented with multiple options. Quality of care ratings and fair price data are displayed on more extensive procedures. For example, did you know that the quality of care of a particular hospital can vary significantly based on the procedure? A facility may have a high-quality rating for cardiovascular procedures but a mediocre rating for orthopedic procedures.
  • Tap into Bluebook Concierge. With this service, you connect with a member of Bluebook’s Concierge team (phone number and chat option are on your resource page on Healthcare Bluebook). They assist you in finding high-quality, cost-effective providers, transferring medical records to the chosen provider, and scheduling your appointments and procedures.

Step 3 in the “I can do this!” journey: Don’t journey alone. Utilize Healthcare Bluebook resources.

Finally, keep an eye out for more help in finding fairly priced care and keeping medical bills down in the coming months.

Barry Clark is the manager of Provider Relations at Samaritan Ministries.