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Ways to Cut Health Care Costs

If you are like many Americans, you're probably shouldering a larger portion of your health care costs than ever before. But most people have no idea how much medical care actually costs. With more and more insurers raising deductibles and switching from fixed amount co-payments to co-insurance, it's important that consumers understand how to have more control over their health care spending.

Consider this: If a gas station was charging $9 for a gallon of gas, the odds are you would drive right past it. You would realize that the price was outrageous. But the reality is that this same situation happens every day in the health care business. Many patients don't know what a fair price is for specific medical procedures and they end up paying the equivalent of that $9 gallon of gas.

Obtaining affordable health care can be challenging. But by taking a more active role in your health care and living a healthy lifestyle, you may be able to significantly reduce your health care costs.

Controlling what you spend on health care is critical if you want to achieve your personal and financial goals. The following suggestions should help you get started.

How to Control Your Expenses

  • Live a healthy lifestyle. The Center for Disease Control estimates that nearly three-quarters of health care costs are spent on the treatment of chronic diseases such as arthritis, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. The good news is that many of these conditions can be prevented or lessened by maintaining simple, common sense habits such as eating a balanced diet, performing regular exercise, getting adequate amounts of sleep, learning stress management techniques, limiting alcohol intake, and not smoking.
  • Only see "in-network" providers. Using a non-network provider can result in huge costs that you are responsible for. Before making an appointment, check with your insurance carrier and make sure that you are seeing an in-network provider. If you are referred to another doctor by your regular physician, check to see that it is an in-network facility also. You need to make certain that everyone involved in your health care treatment is included in your insurance plan- lab facilities, doctors, and anesthesiologists.
  • Find lower-cost after-hours care facilities. Visits to an "in-network" emergency room average around $935. If you have a high deductible policy you will likely have to pay for this yourself. Compare this to an average cost of $71 for a trip to an urgent-care center and it's easy to see why you should go to a hospital ER only for a true medical emergency. You can save even more at a drug store care clinic (such as CVS Minute Clinic) where the cost averages around $33. Some insurance companies offer a free, 24-hour hotline where you can speak with a medical professional about any questions or issues you need addressed.
  • Have regular medical exams. Seeing your doctor for routine physical exams can help keep you healthy. It can also identify problems long before they become serious and more costly to treat. Depending on your age, mammograms, prostate screenings, and colonoscopies are all diagnostic measures which should be performed as recommended by your physician.
  • Switch to generic drugs. Ask your physician to prescribe the generic version of a drug, if possible. This can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year especially if you take a specific drug routinely. Also, some large retailers such as Target and Walmart, only charge $4 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply.
  • Take advantage of wellness benefits. Many insurers now offer discounts for participating in wellness programs including weight-loss and smoking cessation. If you have a health savings account, many employers now pay you directly or give you other rewards for adding these programs to your healthcare management.
  • Always ask for a cash discount. If you haven't yet met your yearly deductible and have to pay for a procedure or treatment yourself, ask for a cash discount. This could save you 20% or more on your total bill. Make certain you are being charged the insurer's negotiated rate and submit the claim to your insurer so that it counts towards your deductible.
  • Try to negotiate a lower payment. When you get your hospital bill, ask if you can pay a lower lump-sum amount right away. Explain that this money is what you have and you can pay it to them immediately if they will agree to a discounted amount. Experts suggest offering 50% as a starting number.

You should be aware that group health-care plans are usually more desirable than individual plans. First, participants can generally get group coverage at lower rates. Second, employers often provide group coverage as an employee benefit. And third, people with existing health problems may find it easier to obtain group coverage because this type of coverage is offered based on the group as a whole rather than on the individual.

If you decide not to carry health insurance just to save money, you may be giving up future financial security for additional cash now. This is a very dangerous situation. You need to investigate all the options available and choose the one that best suits your healthcare needs. No matter if it's private insurance or through your employer, there are ways to control your health care expenses while still protecting your health.