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Saving on Health Care
The high cost of health care has been a growing problem for years, and it now has drawn the attention of Congress. But you don’t have to wait for action out of Washington. There are several things you can do right now to help lower your health care costs.
First, of course, stay healthy. Eat right, exercise, don’t smoke, don’t take unnecessary risks. Find a doctor you like and work together to keep small problems from becoming big ones. But don’t stop there.
Examine what free or low-cost options you might have. For example, many hospitals and municipal health departments offer free or low-cost screenings for a variety of conditions, from high blood pressure to asthma. Often these are considerably less expensive than traditional lab work, and they could be more convenient as well. Check with your doctor about the tests to make sure they are what the doctor wants; if the doctor balks, ask for very specific reasons you should have more expensive tests.
Shop around for things like flu shots. Many stores and communities offer flu shots that could end up costing less than a shot from your doctor. And don’t overlook the possibility of free shots. Many cities offer free flu shots for seniors and for anyone who has a doctor’s note detailing a chronic condition that makes the person more susceptible to flu or its side-effects.
In the same vein, ask your doctor for free samples of medication you are prescribed. Pharmaceutical companies give doctors all kinds of samples, and they usually are happy to pass them along to you.
Also talk to your doctor about generic equivalents for any medication you take. Buying generic usually saves you a lot of money, especially if you can take advantage of the 90-supply offers from retail giants like Wal-Mart and Walgreen’s. If you are on a medication for a long time, ask every time you renew your prescription whether a generic equivalent has become available. If there is no generic, try to find a medication that is on your health plan’s list of preferred medications. Generally speaking, the most expensive choice is a name-brand drug that is not on your health plan’s list of preferred medications.
Ask if you can split medications, because usually it is less expensive to buy 30 10-milligram pills and split them than to buy 60 5-milligram pills, for example. Not all pills can or should be split of course. But it is worth having a conversation with your doctor.
Try to avoid the emergency room, unless you have a real emergency. Not only is the ER usually the most expensive option for treatment, it also is usually the least efficient. If you have a less-serious illness after-hours, look for a freestanding urgent care center or a clinic in a retail outlet. You probably will get faster and less expensive care than you would receive at the ER. In fact, it is a good idea to do some research and make a list of your options ahead of time – just in case.
Of course, your health insurance plan remains a major protection against the cost of health care. So make sure you understand your plan. For example, know when you have to have pre-approval for a procedure – and then get it. You don’t want to find out after the fact that you are not covered.
Know what your annual deductibles and out-of-pocket limits are, and use that information to your benefit. For example, if you have met your deductible in November for a policy that ends in December, consider whether there is any care you could have before the end of the policy year, rather than waiting until the new year – and the new deductible.
Don’t be afraid to shop around, especially if you have to pay for a big chunk of a procedure yourself. And ask if a health care provider gives any kind of a discount if you pay upfront in cash; if you have insurance, you can file the paperwork and collect from your insurer directly.
Finally, keep track of what you spend on health care. It adds up even more than you think, and it might be enough to give you a deduction on your income tax.