dr. russell dohnerWhile many of us can say we've had the same family doctor for many years, it's unlikely that we pay just $5 per visit. Unless we have really good medical insurance with a really low co-pay. But some patients in Rushville, Illinois can happily say that they don't even need insurance to see their doc. Eighty-seven-year-old Dr. Russell Dohner, who has been practicing since 1955, has been making headlines for being one of the last docs to charge pennies for care. He doesn't even take insurance, because he says it's not worth the bother. His philosophy: "I always just wanted to be a doctor to help people with their medical problems." In other words, not to make the big bucks.

But Dohner admits the reality is that he hardly makes enough to pay his nurses. He makes his living mostly from a farm his family owns. So clearly, he's an anomaly. But it does make you think ... shouldn't more doctors feel like Dohner and offer their patients more affordable health care?

Well, some will -- if a patient is willing to ask. You may not be able to get away with a $5 doctor's visit like the people of Rushville, but you could save money by employing a few tricks ...

  1. Make your doctor your ally. If you can get your primary care physician on your side, they could help recommend doctors who will work with you on a large out-of-pocket expense or even be your advocate with a facility's finance department. For instance, when I had back surgery, my physiatrist personally hooked me up with a generous surgeon who he made aware of my financial situation at the time.
  2. Make employees in the billing department your friends. Building good rapport by being assertive and friendly with the billing department could do wonders for your bank account, because they could give you the info you need to save money or help you work out a payment plan.
  3. Negotiate. If you haven't met your deductible yet or have costly co-insurance, see if your doctor will cut his rate if you pay in cash. And if you have to see someone out-of-network, it's possible your insurer may still cover the cost at the higher in-network rate as long as you can prove that your plan doesn't have a specialist with the expertise you need, or has an inadequate number of specialists in your area. If not, offer 35 percent less than the charge (about what he'd recoup from your insurer).
  4. If worst comes to worst, fight. Lots of people feel like they have to just roll over and accept whatever an insurance company tells them they'll cover -- or won't. But if you feel like they won't pay for a service you believe you deserve, don't give up. You can appeal their decision, and ultimately even contact your state insurance commission, which will mediate a dispute and possibly save you lots of dinero.

What are some tips you employ to save money on doctor's visits and other health care costs?


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