Strategies for controlling your medical bills

As the former Chair of Alaska Common Ground, I held a series of events on Alaska’s health care costs, which are some of the highest in the nation. Alaskans need smart strategies that will allow them to hold down medical costs while still receiving the care they need. This list of tips and tricks was compiled after hours of conversations with doctors and other health care professionals who provide medical services in Alaska.

Choosing Medical care

Select a primary care provider, imaging facility or specialist from your insurance preferred provider network. For referrals, request the best in-network providers.

Local clinics and medical laboratories can handle most lab tests. Shop around for best prices.

Avoid the emergency room, except in life-threatening situations. If your primary care provider is not available, go to a walk-in clinic or urgent care facility.

At the clinic, medical office or emergency room

Bring relevant records to give providers accurate information and avoid unnecessary tests.

If needed, bring a relative or friend as your patient advocate and witness.

Ask questions. “Why is this test needed?” “What is this medication?” “Are there alternatives?” Take notes.

Get pre-approval for procedures.


Request “generics” and lower cost medications covered by your insurance.

Admission to hospital

Get pre-approval before admission.

Check your status. “Observation status” patients are classed as outpatients, liable for outpatient co-payments and deductibles. Costs are normally higher than inpatient stays.

Ask how long you will be in the hospital. Decline a private room.

If you have payment issues, speak to a hospital financial counselor.

Upon admission, you will be asked to sign documents covering payment of charges not

covered by insurance. Before signing, specify in writing that all providers must be in your insurance network.

Identify every medical person in attendance. Document all tests, procedures and medications. A patient advocate can do this if you cannot. Refuse unnecessary equipment.

After discharge from hospital

Get itemized bills. Check costs. Track insurance claims and payouts. Dispute charges or codes promptly. Document all contacts.

Avoid getting a loan for medical bills.

If you need a big-ticket procedure

Non-emergency surgeries in Alaska are costly.

New procedures may not be the best. High fees do not guarantee quality.

A second opinion is critical.

Get written quotes from several providers. Ensure all associated fees are included, e.g. anesthesiology, laboratory.

If you choose surgery outside Alaska, there may be problems getting follow-up care from Alaska surgeons.

Before you need medical care

Eat healthy food, exercise regularly, don’t smoke, and limit your alcohol intake.

Keep a list of your medications in your wallet, purse or on your smartphone.

Prepare an advance health care directive/living will specifying your wishes if you are incapacitated. Share it with family and medical providers.

Cliff Groh is a former prosecutor, legislative aide and university instructor, and has written extensively about a variety of public policy topics in Alaska. He has been the volunteer Chair of Alaska Common Ground for the past four years.