Are you asking the right questions? #ankle

“Hi, I broke my ankle and know I have to have surgery. I’m self pay (or, cash pay)… can I ask you a few questions?”

This is how I started the phone calls to surgeon offices when I got back from seeing an orthopedic doctor.


“First, do you have a discount for self-pay, or full payment before the surgery?”

Yes, of course.  All of them did, except for one.  The discounts for this ranged from 20% (the most common) to 40%.


Insurance companies don’t want you to know that.  They don’t want you to know that there are other ways of paying for medical care.

They also don’t want you to know that they never pay full price – they “negotiate” (or bully) the providers to discount the service price…. a surgery I had four years ago saw 50% to 75% discounts, if you paid in full.  Do you know what that 50% to 75% represents?  The gross inefficiencies of dealing with insurance companies.  Talk to any doctor, or anyone involved in medical billing, and ask them how insurance impacts prices that you pay.  It is disgusting.

Oh sorry, I was on a soapbox for a bit there.   Let’s get back to the point of this post.

Oh wait, I’m not sorry.  You see, many of my readers are unemployed, and don’t have insurance through an employer.  COBRA is so expensive I think it is criminal.  And ACA, or Obamacare, is great, but if you make a certain amount, you don’t get any discount, so the price of insurance is more, in many cases, than a mortgage.  So yeah, on this blog we’ll talk about HOW to pay for things, like surgery, when you are unemployed.

Again, back to the point of THIS blog post: asking the right questions.

My second question was: “Can you give me an idea of the cost of surgery for a displaced medial malleolus fracture? It’s eight to ten millimeters displaced.”

The answer for the four I called the first day was “I can’t tell you any costs unless I have a CPT code.”

Well, of course I don’t have a CPT code.  And each of the calls were going nowhere.  That didn’t help my attitude any.

Sometime during my nap I realized that I was asking the wrong questions.  So the next day my calls in the morning went like this:

Hi, I broke my ankle and need to have surgery. I’m self pay, and was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me?” “Sure, I’ll do my best…” “Great. First, do you have a self pay, or cash pay, discount?

This is an easy question to answer… instead of asking them something that required a CPT code, I ask them something they can answer off the top of their head. The next questions were the same kind of easy:

When could I get in for an evaluation?” If it was two weeks out, then I wasn’t going to pursue them.

From the date of my evaluation, how far out would surgery be?” This gave me an idea of whether I’d be waiting for a month to fix this problem, or if they were able to prioritize me and get me taken care of quickly.

Can I have the surgery done at [my favorite surgery center]?” This surgery center is awesome, much less expensive than a hospital, and get this, gives a 75% discount for payment in full on the day of the service. WOW.

This round of calls went MUCH better than the day before because I was asking the right questions to the right person…!

Do you see where I’m going with this?

You know what the WORST question a job seeker asks?  It’s any variation of this: “I’m looking for a job, do you know of anything?” Or, of anyone, or any recruiters, or any openings…

This is THE WORST question. It’s like asking a surgeon’s admin how much a surgery costs, without giving them CPT codes.

What are your CPT codes?  They are SPECIFICS.

What are you looking for?


In what industry?

In what company(ies)?

What job titles are you interested in?

You see, when you ask some variation of “do you know of any openings?” You are asking THE WRONG QUESTION.

So, change your questions.  Ask easy questions.  Questions that the people can answer.  The first few might not lead to a list of openings that you would love, but they will start you down the right path.  As you go down that path, you’ll establish relationships, and build trust, so that when you ask other questions, harder and maybe more specific questions, the people you talk to will have better answers.

So how did my morning of phone calls end?

I asked the easy questions, and got the right answers (to those questions).

Did I learn anything?

YES.  I learned that one office has a staff that was really nice and didn’t treat me like I was burdening them.  They gave a vibe of “we respect you as a human” (and we want your business). The others?  They treated me like I was the IRS trying to set up a time to audit them.  Well, not that bad, but they didn’t give me an impression that I’d have a pleasant experience as their customer.

BONUS: The really nice office was so cool answering my questions, I decided to give it a shot.  I asked “Can you give me a ballpark idea of what this is going to cost me? I won’t hold you to anything, but I’m just wondering if this is a $5,000 thing, or a $20,000 thing?”

Her response?

Way different than any other response from anyone else (which was, I can’t tell you with a CPT code).  She actually told me, the buyer, how much a general, simple surgery would be.  That was my ballpark idea.  That was what I, as a consumer, wanted.

I asked the right questions, and finally got to the answer I most wanted.  And guess what?  She won her doctor a new client, probably for life.

Ask the right questions to get the right answers!


8 thoughts on “Are you asking the right questions? #ankle”

  1. Wishing you the best on your ankle surgery and recovery, Jason. I broke my foot recently and know what a ‘pain’ it can be when every step hurts and you can’t get around as quickly as you’re used to.

  2. Great Post Jason. It’s amazing to me in this day and age how poor we are at asking the right questions in many situations but by learning to do so, how much further we get in life.

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