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If we found a magic lamp, we’d have a wish for our members: That they would be empowered to ask their doctor questions to understand the pros and cons of their health decisions, for both their health and financial well-being. But we know it is difficult for many reasons to question your doctor. It’s also hard to find a doctor that knows how much the treatment or tests they are ordering cost, and even rarer to find one that will say, “you probably shouldn’t get that test, it’s not worth the money.”

Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal, Editor-in-Chief of Kaiser Health News and the keynote speaker at our annual meeting, drives home the point that health care is now big business and has a head-spinning number of stories that back this up. For example, she talks about the training and incentives that are now in place for doctors to order more tests, not less.

If you haven’t found a doctor that is equipped to help you understand your financial health along with your medical health, then who will help you? There’s only one person, and that’s you. As much as we would love to help, we are not there in the room with you when you are on your doctor visit.

To assume this responsibility, you will need to accept that you are the boss in the doctor-patient relationship. You are the customer; the doctor oftentimes represents the business that wants to sell you something. You have the right to ask questions, to refuse a test, ask for a cheaper alternative or walk out the door. Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal provided us with a great list of questions we should ask when speaking with our doctors about tests and treatment options. Please read these before your next appointment.

We know it is hard to do. You don’t have a medical degree, and if your doctor says you need a test that can be done right away it’s difficult to say you’d like to wait and do some research. It’s even more difficult if you’re in pain. But if you choose to embrace your boss role, then you should make another appointment for the test (which you can always cancel) and then do your research. That includes calling us and find out how the test is covered.

As your cooperative, we’d like to prevent our members from learning about health care by mistake. We’d like to lead a movement that makes the health system more responsive to consumers’ needs. But we know you’re the boss, and we can’t do it without you.

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