You wait for sales, use coupons, negotiate, and even compare prices all to save money. But those methods don't work at most hospitals.
"Now, I am nervous because I don't know how much it is going to cost me," says Santica Holbrook who is going under the knife next month.
While Holbrook knows all about her procedure, she likely won't learn how much it will cost her until it's done.
A bill introduced by two North Carolina lawmakers may change that. If approved, hospitals would have to publicly disclose the prices of their 50 most common procedures.
"I think there is a lot of value in patients being able to make informed decisions based on knowledge of what it is going to cost them," according to Neil Caesar, attorney and president of The Health Law Center.
Caesar says the bill is an example of a nationwide trend of consumers demanding transparency.
The bill also mandates that hospitals would have to report how much uninsured patients, Medicare, Medicaid and the five largest insurers pay for each procedure.
"There is no question that more information is going to be available," Caesar said.
Currently, 14 other states require that medical cost data be available to consumers, but only New Hampshire and Maine publish the information online.
South Carolina hospitals don't publicly post their fees.
"I think we ought to be able to shop around," says Thomas Karr. "When you are looking at a bill that is like $50,000 you're thinking how am I ever going to pay this."
Karr says the scars from his back surgery five years ago have begun to fade, but the debt from the procedure hasn't disappeared.
He and many others think this new bill is a good idea.
Although some point out if prices are reported, competing hospitals and insurance companies will know what the other is spending which means patients may end up paying the difference.
"Costs have to go somewhere, and if they are not showing up in what your managed care plan is going to pay, they are going to show up in other ways," Caesar said.
So the question now is how much does "peace of mind" cost?
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