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Controlling your health care costs

Posted Apr 06 2009 11:15pm

WebMD provides valuable health information for consumers.   A recent article by WebMD Health News writer, Miranda Hitti, provides useful tips on how you can spend less on health care services.   The article is a three-part series that covers topics on how to manage costs of children’s medical care, cutting prescription drug costs and reducing costs of doctor visits. Below are highlights of the article.

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Children’s Medical Care


Children need lots of medical care for vaccinations, routine checkups, sniffles, sore throats and fevers.   Look into local and state resources that provide assistance based on financial need.   Check with your local state or local health department. Most of these agencies can refer you to affordable health care providers that offer sliding scale fees based on your income.


Don't skip children's vaccinations.   Kids and teens – and even adults, need to stay up to date with their immunizations.   Many retail clinics offer affordable vaccinations.   Local health departments offer health and wellness services through hospital community outreach programs, at affordable costs to the community.   Contact your village hall for more information.


You should first try to phone or email your pediatrician's office with basic questions. You can often avoid a costly trip to the emergency room by taking advantage of telephone counseling for many routine kinds of problems.  


Doctor Visits and Medical Tests


Skipping doctor appointments could be risky and you could end up spending more money later on for expensive emergency treatment or health consequences for more severe conditions.   Be sure to follow through with preventive care.


Take care of your health --- it’s your most important resource.   A healthy lifestyle can pay off – literally.   Your good health makes you wealthy.   Think about it, if you are healthy, you might need fewer prescription drugs, you might be less likely to develop high-maintenance conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.   Your insurance premiums might even be reduced.


Eat healthy foods, exercise, and lose the extra weight.   Even simple walks can make a huge difference in your overall health. Walking is free and you can walk anywhere!


Negotiate with your doctor, or the financial counselor at your doctor's office, about medical test costs and office visits.   If you are uninsured or have a high-deductible plan, providers will often provide you with a big discount (up to 70%) for paying cash at time of service.   If the discount they offer is not a fair price, offer to pay the Medicare rate (these rates are public information).


Research your local and state health resources.   Look into community health centers (which typically charge fees on a sliding scale), free clinics, and local or state programs for children.   A community center charges as little as $20 for what an urgent care center will charge around $110 and most doctors’ office charges $120.   You can save a lot of money by being a savvy consumer.    If you have children and meet certain income standards, check with your state or local health department about insurance.


If you are uninsured, investigate what coverage you may be eligible for, that you might not know about.


Don't use the emergency room for problems that aren't emergencies.   Because emergency rooms are overwhelmed, you may wait hours to be seen. And if you're paying out-of-pocket, you could wind up with a very expensive bill, which you will be responsible for.


Prescription Drug Costs


Ask your doctor about generic drugs and over-the-counter drugs.   Many people respond as well from generic drugs as on brand-name drugs.   Generic drugs are a lot more affordable.    Be sure to ask your doctor if you can get higher-dose pills to cut in half because high and low doses of drugs often cost the same amount.   Cutting your pills in half not only makes your pills last longer, but you can save a lot of money.   For instance, a patient who takes 20-milligram doses each day of a drug that costs $100 per month could save $600 a year if his doctor prescribes a 40-milligram dose and the patient cuts each pill in half.    Be aware that some pills don’t work properly if they are split so ask your doctor or pharmacist.


Shop around and compare costs for the best price on your prescription drugs.   The cost of your prescription drugs may vary a great deal across different pharmacies.


Look into drug companies' assistance programs.   Drug companies offer assistance programs to help cover medication costs for people who meet certain financial criteria.


Consider your Medicare Part D plan.   If you're 65 or older, or have Medicare because of a disability, you can switch Medicare Part D plans each year from Nov. 15 through Dec. 31, so you may want to assess whether your current plan is still the best deal for you.


Store your pills correctly.   Heat, moisture, and darkness can reduce the potency of the medication.   You spend a lot of money on your prescription drugs so be careful how you store them to avoid waste.


Be careful with promotions for expensive drugs. If your doctor gives you a card offering a one-time deal on an expensive prescription drug, you might want to remember that that deal won't help you if you refill that prescription.   Keep in mind  that you are going to have to pay for the refill out-of-pocket.


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