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How to Control Surgical Costs

Hospital stays make up more than half of all health care costs. One way to cut your medical costs is to avoid surgery.

You can't always do this, though. Here are ideas from the National Institutes of Health and other experts to keep more money in your pocket.

Look for options

Find out about any alternatives to surgery. Sometimes, an operation isn’t the only answer to a medical problem. Medication or a change in diet or exercise may be just as helpful. Ask your surgeon or primary care doctor about the benefits and risks of these other choices.

Another alternative to surgery may be watchful waiting. During a watchful wait, your health care provider periodically checks to see if your condition gets better or worse over time. If it gets better, you may not need surgery.

Same-day surgery?

Ask if your surgery can be done in outpatient services. Many elective surgeries are now done this way. Improved technology and advances in anesthesia make this possible.

These procedures include removal of tonsils and adenoids, hernia repairs, gallbladder operations, colonoscopies, hemorrhoid repairs, cataract and cosmetic surgeries, and some foot, ankle, and hand operations.

Because there are no hospital room charges and related hospital expenses, the bills for outpatient surgery are much lower. Some insurance companies will cover certain surgical procedures only on an outpatient basis. A hospital stay may be allowed if you have a certain medical condition that needs more intensive postoperative care. Your health care provider will need to certify this.

Get a second opinion

A second opinion lets you know that an operation is the best choice. The National Institutes of Health says that getting a second opinion is common medical practice. Some health insurance plans ask patients to get a second opinion before they have operations that aren’t for an emergency.

Several methods

Ask if there is more than one way of doing the operation. For example, having the surgery done with laparoscopy, using a small incision instead of a large one, may reduce the cost.

What's the cost?

Know the estimated cost of your operation. Even if you have health insurance, you’ll need to pay part of the cost. How much you pay will usually depend on whether you choose an in-network surgeon and hospital. Before you have any procedure, call your insurance company to verify your coverage and costs.