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Shop around for medical equipment or you could end up with a $900 knee brace

Each month Kaiser Health News features a story of a consumer stuck with an outrageous medical bill. March brought a doozy of a story.

Esteban Serrano, a 41-year-old software engineer who lives in Pennsylvania, hurt his knew playing a weekend soccer game. His doctor diagnosed a strain of the medial collateral ligament and prescribed over-the-counter medication and told him to wear a hinged knee brace for a month.

Serrano didn’t think twice about the cost for the visit – or the brace he bought from the doctor. Then he got the bill. The total cost was $1,197: $210 for the outpatient office visit, $105 for the X-ray and $882 for the hinged knee brace.

His insurer, Aetna, paid $52.59 of the brace, which left Serrano with a balance of $829.41 because he had not yet met his annual $3,000 deductible.

Serrano told Kaiser Health News that the “shocking bill was almost more painful” than his injury. He also did some research and found the same brace online for less than $250. Kaiser reporters checked with Dr. Elizabeth Matzkin, chief of Women’s Sports Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She described a hinged braces as a “luxury product” and said simple, cheaper braces from your local pharmacy also offer support.

Ouch.

The lesson: Don’t assume your doctor or hospital offers the best deal when it comes to medical equipment. Shop around, even if you simply take a few minutes to search on Google in the waiting room.

Have you paid a premium price for medical equipment? Share your tips and stories with Voices for Affordable Health.