Corralling Your Medical Costs
…What you can do to keep the bills from mounting
Health care reform is continually in the news. The efforts by national and local government to rein in costs are having mixed success at best. Instead of waiting for bureaucrats to wrestle this problem to the ground, why not take steps on your own to control your own costs? With just a little effort, you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Take care of yourself—and your family. This has to be the top of any health care list: Eating a healthy diet that contains at least five servings of produce daily and includes plenty of whole grains will do wonders for your overall health. Mix in a liberal dose of exercise—at least 30 minutes a day of activity most days of the week—and you’ll dramatically lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, weight gain, and high blood pressure, not to mention relieve stress and anxiety, which can ward off mood disorders such as depression. Believe it or not, you’ll also have much more energy and improved quality of life.
Seek appropriate care. Where you get treated can make a big difference in your cost and, ultimately, in your insurance premium. Last year, the Mayo Clinic compared the expense of treating strep throat at different health care centers. A convenient care clinic charged between $45 and $60; a doctor’s office visit ran $55 to $195; an urgent care facility, $65 to $205; and a visit to the emergency room at a hospital cost between $100 and $402. That’s a considerable difference for the same, effective treatment at each facility. Even if your out-of-pocket cost is only a co-pay, your insurer must pick up the difference and that cost will be reflected in higher premiums down the road. In other words, learn to distinguish real emergencies from garden-variety illnesses, and be sure to choose the right facility for your treatment. For the flu, colds, and other minor ailments, you may not even need to see a doctor.
Keep up with preventive screenings. Catching problems such as high blood pressure or cholesterol early can make a world of difference in your health care costs down the road. Managing disease before it reaches a critical stage is less costly—not to mention less painful for you. Most insurers cover cholesterol screenings, annual physicals, heart and cancer screens, and other preventive tests, so be sure to take advantage of these.
Know your doctor, and make sure your doctor knows you. Building a strong connection with your primary care physician will mean that he or she is up to date on your medical history, your medications, and your risk factors. That way, any changes in your health will be easier to diagnose. What’s more, research indicates that patients who have a good relationship with their doctor receive better care and are happier with that care.
Understand your coverage. As many people have found out the hard way, you—not your doctor—are responsible for knowing what’s covered and what isn’t under your insurance plan. The moment a question arises about coverage, don’t hesitate to call your insurer. You can literally save yourself thousands of dollars by being an informed partner with your insurer.
Open a Flexible Spending Account. Although most employers offer an FSA plan, few people take advantage. That’s a shame when you consider that setting aside pre-tax dollars to pay for your health care can shave your expenses by as much as 30 percent. Tally up the cost of regular prescriptions, contact lenses or glasses, dental work, preventive screens, and care for any chronic conditions; then set aside those pre-tax dollars. You’ll be amazed at how much you can save.