After a car accident left Michelle Katz, a Washington, D.C., nursing student, with persistent back pain and numbness in 1998, she consulted a neurosurgeon, who told her she'd need an operation to repair her slipped disk. Katz, then 26, didn't have health insurance, so she did the only thing she could think of: She negotiated.
Katz offered to pay her surgeon and anesthesiologist a portion up front in exchange for a hefty discount and arranged a payment plan for the rest. When she got her hospital bill, she haggled with the billing department to drop some charges. All told, she ended up paying just half of the original $28,000 estimate.