How to Cut Your Health-Care Costs Without Sacrificing Your Health

By Emily Guy Birken

| Photographs By Piyapong Thongcharoen

Health-care costs are soaring higher and higher each year, and more and more people are thinking about dropping health insurance. This combination can lead to financial disaster, even for the most prudent and well-prepared individual.

With the average cost of a 24-hour stay in a hospital in the $3,000-to-$5,000 range, any long-term illness could be disastrous, even if you have health insurance.

Here are some tips for keeping health costs at bay, whether you have insurance or you don’t:

If you have insurance:

Always work within your insurance provider’s network of doctors, clinics and pharmacists. Though it may add an extra step in finding a doctor, getting a referral or even filling a prescription, this can save you a substantial amount.

For instance, if my husband and I have our prescriptions filled at a plan-approved pharmacy, we pay nothing for the drugs, but we pay retail price if we go to any other pharmacy. The extra drive is worth it, especially for prescriptions that we need on a regular basis.

If you have an urgent health problem that is not life-threatening, visit an urgent-care clinic, rather than the emergency room. This is a win-win, as it makes sure that the patients with anaphylactic allergic reactions, broken bones, stroke and heart-attack symptoms and other dire injuries are not kept waiting in the ER, and the urgent health situations that can’t wait for a doctor but don’t need the full attention of the local ER will be taken care of for less.

Generally your insurance will cover an urgent-care visit — make sure you check your plan on this before you need it — but even if it doesn’t, the cost to drop in at one of these clinics is much more reasonable than a trip to the hospital.

One more option to those with employer-provided health insurance is to use your flexible spending account (FSA). This account will allow you to put aside pre-tax money to pay for the expenses insurance won’t cover.

Unfortunately, FSAs will not roll over your money from year to year, so any cash in the account not used by the end of the year is lost. To maximize your use of the FSA, go over your health-care spending in the last year or two and anticipate accordingly.

If you do not have insurance:

After seeing a friend deal with a prolonged hospital stay while unemployed, I now understand the importance of having any health coverage, even if it is the so-called catastrophic health insurance. Insurers prefer to call this coverage a high deductible health plan (HDHP), and enrolling in one can help you stave off a terrible financial burden should you need medical assistance.

These plans have deductibles as high as $10,000 or higher, so they are not for individuals who will need regular medical attention. Each time you see a doctor, you will pay out of pocket until your deductible is reached. However, for healthy individuals, it is good for peace of mind that you will not be facing down a $150,000 hospital bill after a several-week stay.

If you need prescriptions and do not have health insurance, make sure that you talk to your doctor about your options. Pharmaceutical companies are always coming out with the next best thing, and the newer the drug, the more expensive it is (and the less likely that it will be available in a generic form).

Telling your doctor that you don’t have prescription coverage can turn up lots of less-expensive options. Your doctor could prescribe an older version of the medication you need, he could prescribe you 30 pills that could be split rather than 30 pills of your specific lower dosage, or he could help you out by giving you samples of the drug you need.

Finally, for those with or without insurance, the best way to keep health care costs low is to take good care of yourself. Eating right and exercising are things we should all do to feel good. Though you might not see a difference in your budget right away, it will still keep your health-care costs low throughout your life, while improving your quality of life.

Who could say no to that?

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Tags - Health, Saving


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