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Dr. James D. Namnoum | Board Certified Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon

Budgeting for Surgery With or Without Insurance

Close-up of a calculator and a pen resting atop a paper budget with various lines of expenses and income.

Though specific surgical procedures range greatly in price, surgery of any kind can be expensive. Necessary, life-saving procedures are inaccessible due to cost for many people. As many as one-third of all Americans have avoided getting medical care because of the cost — and that’s just accounting for routine doctor’s appointments and checkups, not expensive surgical procedures.

To avoid medical debt without putting your health at risk, it’s vital to look for different ways to save money on surgery.

Insurance

First of all, check with your provider to see if your insurance covers your procedure. Depending on your plan, some or even all of the procedure may be covered. You may still encounter additional expenses that aren’t covered, such as anesthesiologist fees, but any amount of coverage can bring the cost of surgery down dramatically.

Coverage and cost will depend heavily on the procedure you’re getting done. More complex or intensive surgeries tend to cost more than a short, simple one. The locale of your surgery can also affect coverage. For instance, your provider may offer different levels of coverage for hospitals and outpatient facilities.

Certain elective procedures, such as plastic and cosmetic surgeries, may only be covered if they’re considered medically necessary. Your provider may choose to cover a breast augmentation or reduction surgery, for example, if the procedure will help reduce neck or back pain, improving overall health. Again, this will depend heavily on what your current coverage is like, as no two plans or providers are the same.

Look for Discounts

Talk to your healthcare provider or doctor to see if they offer any discounts. Some may run promotions during a certain time of year. Depending on when you schedule your surgery, you could get some kind of seasonal discount. Additionally, you may be able to combine multiple procedures and get them done all at once, further lowering the price. This is especially common for plastic and cosmetic surgery but could be appropriate for other kinds of procedures.

Loans

You can consider taking out a loan to pay for your procedure. An unsecured personal loan from a bank or credit union is your best bet, as you have the most flexibility with how you can use the funds. A secure personal loan will offer a similar level of freedom, but you’ll have to put up collateral (such as your car or some stocks) to back up or “secure” your loan.

Medical loans are a type of personal loan that is used to pay for healthcare expenses. You can get both secured and unsecured medical loans. You can also apply for a medical loan from a bank, credit union, or other financial institution. Some banks may not advertise medical loans specifically; instead, they may simply note that medical expenses are an acceptable use of personal loan funds.

With a personal loan, you’ll get financing quickly, which may be your top priority if you’re dealing with a medical emergency. However, they can also be expensive, especially if you have poor credit, as you’ll likely qualify for a smaller loan with a higher interest rate. For this reason, personal and medical loans are best if you have good credit and stable finances.

Medical Credit Cards

You may want to look into opening up a medical credit card, which is a credit card that can be used for healthcare expenses. For the most part, they work similarly to normal credit cards and allow you to secure financing quickly. Medical credit cards don’t cover all costs and expenses, so you’ll need to ensure your procedure is covered before applying for a card.

Medical credit cards often offer deferred interest for the first few months your account is open. During this time, you won’t have to pay any interest on the balance, but if you cannot pay it all off before the promotion ends, you’ll be charged interest retroactively. This can add hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to your bill, worsening your medical debt and negatively impacting your credit. Using medical credit cards can be an effective strategy, but only if you can pay off that balance before accruing interest charges.

You could also use a normal credit card to pay for your surgery, although this is probably one of the more expensive ways to do so. Some credit cards have 25% interest rates, which can be a large financial burden if you have to pay thousands of dollars for your surgery. Again, unless your credit card has a 0% promotional interest rate and you can pay the balance without getting charged, this is a risky option that can put additional strain on your finances for years to come.

Borrow From Your Savings

If you’ve got a decent safety net, you can pull from your savings to cover the cost of surgery. Paying for healthcare is an appropriate reason to dip into your savings account or emergency fund, especially if it would greatly improve your health and wellbeing.

As long as you haven’t met the monthly federal withdrawal limit, it’s easy to pull funds from a standard savings account. It’s more difficult to pull money out of a retirement fund, like a 401(k) or Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA), as you can face tax penalties. If you have a 401(k) with your employer, you may be able to take out a loan against the account, penalty-free, as long as you pay it back quickly. Repayment terms can vary, but you’ll likely encounter hefty tax penalties if you don’t pay it back in time.

No matter which account you borrow from, don’t forget to replenish your savings after the fact. If you have time, it may be best to start budgeting and saving for your surgery in advance. This will allow you to build up funds without compromising your savings or retirement.

Use Your Home Equity

If you own your home, you can look into getting a home equity loan or line of credit. This allows you to borrow money against the amount of money you’ve already paid on your mortgage. This works best if you’ve already paid off a significant amount of your mortgage or your house has greatly appreciated.

A home equity loan or line of credit is, in essence, a type of secured loan where your house is the collateral. Approval may be easier, but this is a risky move. If you default on the loan, you could lose your home entirely. You should only consider a home equity loan if you’re confident you’ll be able to pay the loan back or if you cannot continue to function without your procedure.

Financing

You may be able to get financial assistance from your surgeon or the healthcare facility where the surgery is being performed. Many physicians and practices offer financial assistance to patients who have to pay out-of-pocket. Each physician and facility will provide their own forms of financial assistance, so check with both your doctor and the facility to see what they offer.

More often than not, you’ll be able to work out a payment plan for your surgery. This way, you can make payments each month that are more manageable than a large lump sum. For planned, elective surgeries, you may have to make these payments in advance, before you can get the procedure done.

It also doesn’t hurt to talk to the billing or collections department associated with your facility. They may have other ways to bring down the cost of your procedure. Make sure you get any offers or promises of financial assistance in writing so you, your doctor, and your insurance provider can reference it later.

Compare Rates

Finally, shop around to get multiple quotes on the cost of your surgery. Different doctors will charge different amounts for the same procedure. It’s important to find a surgeon you trust, but it’s just as important to find one who won’t break the bank. It may take some time to do the research, but it could save you thousands.

If you do have insurance, stick with a surgeon and facility that are both in your network. With an out-of-network surgeon, you could end up paying the same amount as someone who doesn’t have insurance at all.

Whether you have a comprehensive healthcare plan or none at all, there are several different strategies you can use to make the cost of surgery more manageable. You can even try multiple strategies to maximize your savings while still ensuring that you can access the care you need.

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