The Real Key to Saving on Health Care

Whatever your insurance situation, you've almost certainly been in a situation where you've had to shell out big time for health care. Maybe your plan didn't cover an ambulance, or your deductible was super high, or your specialist was just plain expensive. Someone might have given you this advice: It's a market like any other. Shop around!

That argument has made its latest appearance in MarketWatch. The story focuses on the rise of price transparency tools, including apps like Robin and the Fair Health Consumer website. It's not bad or mean-spirited advice. Post-treatment sticker shock can be a huge blow to your budget, and medical debt is no joke.

There are some instances where it is better to shop around for treatment options that make financial sense. For instance, MarketWatch cites wildly differing costs for MRI scans. There are limitations, though, and one is easily spotted: Emergency treatment does not give you the option of price-shopping for care providers.

Even beyond that, insurance can limit which providers and which treatments are available to you, putting some options out of reach unless you're willing to pay out of pocket. If you are going to comparison-shop on health care, remember that you're not necessarily choosing between similar items or services. A $600 visit may be a better investment than a poorly executed $400 one, and correcting faulty care can cost way more in the long run.

If you have time, dig into patient reviews and professional ratings of health care professionals. Your due diligence may not always nab you a great deal, but it could get you the best treatment on offer.