Friday, October 23, 2009

Health Care and Medical Cost Savings

When you are focusing on ways to save money in your household budget, one top shelf expense is your costs for health care. If you have insurance, you are concerned about the premiums and the net cost increase from year to year. If you need medical procedures or medications prescribed by your family doctor, and one or more of those items are not covered by insurance, you are concerned about how much the cost will be and whether you have the money to pay for those medical expenses. If you have no insurance, or are "underinsured", you can be really freaked out when you are totally exposed without any way to pay for even nominal medical bills, such as a brand name drug with no generic option, or even a simple visit to the physician or medical practitioner. How will you pay for an accident that requires a trip to the emergency room or having to be admitted into the hospital? What about paying for physical therapy, trips to the chiropractor, or being away from work with a short term disability? Lots of questions.

Trying to keep costs down is a huge consideration for any individual or family that may be dealing with either an isolated health care incident or ongoing medical issues. Sourcing ways to cut costs can become a full time job in many households. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), and senior fellow Dr. Devon Herrick, people often assume they have little control over how much they spend on health care. After all, sickness cannot be scheduled; doctors prescribe treatments and employers provide health coverage to more than 60 percent of Americans. However, there are many overlooked ways to trim your health costs and still get the care you need.
1.) Cut your prescription costs: Asking questions, research and making some phone calls can make a significant dent in your drug bill. There can be options for treating some medical conditions with more than one specific drug. Always ask your doctor about therapeutic substitutes and/or generics. Of course, large name pharmacies now offer $4 monthly and $10 quarterly costs for many drugs. Mind your co-pay rate; these low prices are sometimes less than your drug plan's co-pay, so make sure you pay the lesser rate. You can compare prices among local pharmacies and reputable Websites by calling or Googling your prescribed dose. For example, Rxaminer.com or pillbot.com have free pharmaceutical cost comparisons. If a brand name drug is best for your particular condition, ask your doctor about free samples. It's unusual for free samples to be available for generic drugs. The samples are promotional tools for newer, more expensive drugs. Also, check the drug manufacturer's website for each of your prescribed drugs. Many manufacturers now post discount offers, coupons, rebates and cost assistance programs. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor or pharmacist about over-the-counter options. There may be drugs or even diagnostic tests that can help manage some temporary and chronic illnesses, and cost a lot less than prescriptions. In fact, nearly one-thousand current OTC drugs were once available only by prescription. These include allergy remedies, pain relievers and heartburn medications.
2.) Pay less for a consultation: Retail clinics (such as MinuteClinic or RediClinic) or telemedicine services that offer phone and online consultations (such as TelaDoc, or CallMD) can cost significantly less than traditional office visits. A visit to a walk-in clinic can result in a bill that is less than half of what you'd see from a doctor's office visit and a fraction of emergency room treatment. Some telemedicine firms charge per consultation. Small, free standing clinics like CareNow also offer costs and wait times that are usually well below those in an emergency room. And, don't pass up the opportunity to visit health fairs -- where most services, such as disease screenings, blood tests and risk assessments are often free.
3.) Shop for diagnostic procedures and lab work: Ask about cash rates and discounts. Call different labs in your area and check prices for both cash and your insurance plan's negotiated rate. Paying upfront and/or filing insurance forms yourself may save significant costs. If you are getting any kind of procedure, make sure -- in advance -- that all providers are in-network, including the anesthesiologist. If uninsured, negotiate in advance of receiving care; check the Internet for discount card programs (Careington--www.careington.com) that lower costs at hospitals, pharmacies, labs and retail clinics. Also, compare prices at different labs and diagnostic centers. Screenings and tests can be priced up to 80 percent less than the cost for the same services in hospitals or clinics.
4.) Medical Tourism: This term originally meant traveling to another country for treatment, but that's changed. If you are in need of costly surgery, there are increasing numbers of reputable clinics, hospitals and surgery centers in the U.S. willing to compete for business by offering services as a steep cash discount. Search the Internet for competitive facilities that cater to cash-paying patients willing to travel to a neighboring town or state to save money. If your deductible is high or you're uninsured, consider traveling to another country where the cost of performing surgery can be a fraction of the cost of same procedure in the U.S. Experts identify India, Singapore and Thailand as the best values, but countries such as Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica have partner relationships with a variety of American hospitals, and provide high quality health care for as much as one-half to two-thirds less the cost of the same procedures in the U.S.
5.) Compare your insurance options: Check your insurance plan; the end of December marks the end of open enrollment at many companies. For those insured through an employer, review your health plan choices. A Health Savings Account (HSA) might save you money over a PPO or HMO, especially with employer contributions. I have saved more than $12,000 during the past five years by taking advantage of my HSA. If on a non-group plan, shop around and consider raising your deductible to reduce your monthly premium and still maintain major medical and catastrophic coverage.
6.) Become an empowered patient: Do your homework and search reputable websites for information that can help you ask more informed questions and possibly prevent an unnecessary office visit. There are growing numbers of educational websites dedicated to information on specific medical conditions. Many are university-, hospital- or association-based. You can learn to help manage chronic conditions, such as asthma, allergies or diabetes. Participating in the daily treatment of your illness can help minimize costly and dangerous complications. If patients learn to ask more questions, do their homework and take an active role in taking better care of themselves, the payoff can result in both medical and financial benefits for the coming year.

There are many internet sites that feature how to save money on health care expenses, including Parents.com who list 25 ways to cut costs: http://www.parents.com/parenting/money/family-finances/save-money-on-health-care/, and at eHow.com: http://www.ehow.com/how_2095737_save-money-health-insurance.html . And, according to FiveCentNickel.com, having health insurance helps protect your family from medical problems, and can also help you avoid some huge medical bills. Unfortunately, an estimated 47 million Americans are uninsured. A major contributor to this statistic is the high cost of health insurance premiums. The good news is that there are a few things you can do to reduce your health insurance premiums and associated healthcare expenses.
1.) Increase your health insurance deductible:
This isn’t possible with all plans, but a higher deductible can save you hundreds and monthly premiums. Just be sure that your emergency fund or health savings account (HSA) can cover the deductible.
2.) Go for generic drugs whenever possible:
Some drugs are available in generic form at less than half the cost of the name brand version. On top of this, many major retailers (e.g., Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, and Walgreens) offer $4 prescriptions, and some even offer free antibiotics.
3.) Try health clinics:
This can be a great option for some of your exams, and it can also help save on prescriptions. Check with your local health department to see if there are any such clinics in your area.
4.) Look into private health insurance:
Employers don’t always offer the best deal on health insurance. Shop around online using an online tool to help you compare health insurance companies and see if there a policy that is more affordable for you. You may also qualify for some state run health insurance programs, which can likewise reduce the costs.
So there you have it… Four tips for saving money on health insurance and medical care. While many people are trying to cut costs and save money, that doesn’t have to involve sacrificing the quality of your healthcare.

According to About.com, leading a healthy lifestyle, including stopping smoking, wearing seat belts when you drive, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight can decrease your healthcare costs. Interestingly it can also help reduce your health insurance premiums. Many employers are providing financial incentives for their employees to stay healthy. By participating in your company’s wellness program, you could not only save money on your share of the premium costs, but you also may improve your heath. Check with your employer’s human resources department to see if your company offers a wellness program with healthy lifestyle incentives. If your company does not offer such a program or if you are self-employed, or unemployed, get out and take a walk and have a salad for lunch instead of fast food!

The DallasMorningNews.com offers some advice to keep health care costs down:
1.) Be honest with the doctor if you can't afford a prescription. The doctor may have free samples or be able to prescribe a less-expensive medicine. Also, ask whether you can save money by buying and splitting a larger dosage or by buying smaller doses and doubling up. But, don't compromise on your health. Be careful not to take the wrong dosage. Understand that pills labeled "time-release" or "long-acting" usually are not safe to split.
2.) Cut costs on eyeglass frames. The least expensive frames typically are available at large stores and optical chains. If you prefer the higher quality frames sold at doctors' offices or boutiques, negotiate or ask about coupons or seasonal sales. The markup on frames usually is very high, so if you ask for 20 percent off of the price of a second pair of glasses, you may get it. Also, many Lions Club chapters provide eyeglasses to those with limited means. However, the least expensive frames usually are not the best frames. You should ask whether options such as scratch-proof coating, plastic rather than glass lenses or UV protection can be included in the price of better frames rather than buying cheaper frames.
3.) Seniors may qualify for drug coverage under Medicare and also may be eligible for a Medicare savings program that can help pay for Medicare out-of-pocket expenses. Contact Medicare at 1-800-633-4227 or www.medicare.gov. Look for discounts at mail-order pharmacies at www.medicarerights.org. Or see www.pharmacychecker.com, www.pricegrabber.com, www.destinationrx.com and, for seniors, www.aarp.org/comparedrugs.
4.) Try alternative treatments, especially for chronic ailments. See whether your insurance covers acupuncture, massage therapy or yoga for back pain or stress-related illnesses. But, keep your primary-care physician informed of alternative treatments. Conventional medicine is recommended for acute problems including infections, broken bones and bleeding.
5.) A network provider will cost less under your health plan. The insurance company should have a list of network providers. Also, a nurse practitioner usually charges less than a doctor. An independent nurse practitioner may have a private office or work in a clinic at a large pharmacy or in stores such as CVS, Target, or Wal-Mart. A visit to one of these clinics may cost $25 to $60.

Saving money, especially for insurance, medical bills, or any other health related issue is no laughing matter. You can help your financial health and strengthen your household bottom line when you follow steps to keep expenses as low as possible to take care of your health, both physically and financially, for you and your family.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

1 comment:

davidkrueger said...

Very good and extensive coverage of Health Care and Medical Cost Savings. Reading this should help everone save money on their health costs. As a health insurance agent I would recommend going to my web site at "http://www.aimhealthplans.com/davidkrueger" and look up the Rx section. Put in the drug you are taking and the site will tell you if there is a generic equivalent with the name which which will be tons less expensive. This site is also available for those that can't qualify for regular insurance and don't want to pay the price for the High Risk Pool. It's not the same coverage but it does provide good coverage.
David Krueger, CLU