To Cover Medical Bills, the Uninsured Get Creative

Some patients are seeking foreign treatment or raising money online.

A high medical bill.
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[Read: 5 Under-the-Radar Medical Conditions That May Hurt Your Career.]

Williams says crowdfunding for medical costs has potential, especially if the patient has lots of friends and a compelling story. However, he adds that crowdfunding—like other strategies—should be used in conjunction with checking bills for errors and negotiating costs where possible.

Daily deals. Offers for teeth whitening, LASIK eye surgery, and even medical check-ups have popped up on daily deal sites, including Groupon and AmazonLocal. A recent AmazonLocal deal for New York City offered a pediatric dental exam, cleaning, bitewing X-rays, and fluoride treatment for $100 instead of the regular price of $300.

Such offers can be appealing to those without dental or health insurance, but Williams cautions patients to avoid buying more than they need. "A lot of the dental deals include things that the typical patient—especially one on a budget—could go without, like X-rays," he says. X-rays can also open the door to upselling if they uncover an issue. "The value proposition that these sites provide [to doctors and dentists] is that you will get new customers and you'll make money from their repeat visits," says Williams. "But a patient may get a Groupon from another dentist, and they may only get this one opportunity, so they try to sell as much as they can right now."

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Vicky Choi learned this the hard way after buying a voucher for a dentist's office in Southern California without reading online reviews. She'd planned to get a cleaning, but the dentist tried to upsell her to a more expensive procedure she couldn't afford. After the dentist insisted a regular cleaning would be useless, Choi requested a refund from the company that sold her the voucher and went back to her regular dentist. "I was trying to avoid an $80 cleaning since I'm unemployed, but the old adage 'you get what you pay for' rings true," she says, adding that other reviewers on had a similarly frustrating experience at the dentist's office.

Daily deals make sense in some cases, but sticking with a regular dentist or doctor—even if it costs you more out of pocket—offers the longstanding trust and continuity of care offered by a provider you know.