Ten Ways to Trim Your Health Care Costs

Market Watch | National Center for Policy Analysis | 2008-12-18

The one expenditure that a lot of people assume they have little or no control over is health care costs. Yet, a little common sense and a healthy dose of consumerism can reward savvy shoppers with significant savings without sacrificing care, says Devon Herrick, Ph.D., a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.
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 $9,000 during the past four years by taking advantage of my HSA. If on a non-group plan, shop around and consider increasing your deductible to reduce your premium and still maintain major medical coverage.
Ask about cash rates and discounts: If uninsured, negotiate in advance of receiving care; check the Internet for discount card programs that lower costs at hospitals, pharmacies, labs and retail clinics.
Shop for better prescription deals: There are many ways to reduce prescription drug costs. For example, consider therapeutic alternatives and/or generics. Compare prices among local pharmacies and reputable online sites. Rxaminer.com has free pharmacy cost comparisons. Numerous pharmacies now have generics for as little as $4 per monthly supply, and $10 for three months. Even if you have insurance, these low prices can sometimes beat the negotiated insurance rates.
Ask your doctor about generic versions of your medications: For brand name drugs, ask your doctor for samples (Note: free samples are generally not available in generic form). Also, go to the drug manufacturer Web site and check for discount coupons, rebates and cost assistance programs.
Cut office-visit costs: Retail clinics (such as MinuteClinic or RediClinic) or telemedicine services (such as TelaDoc) 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. TelaDoc is about $35 per consultation.
Shop for diagnostic procedures and lab work: Call around 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.
Take advantage of health fairs: Many cash-pay diagnostic facilities and health fairs offer wellness health screenings, lab work and diagnostic imaging at significantly reduced rates. Some services can even be free. Screenings are often bundled with prices up to 80 percent less than hospitals or clinics.
Medical tourism: 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. India and Thailand are considered the best value, but countries such as Mexico and Costa Rica are partnering with prestigious American hospitals to offer high quality health care for 50 to 80 percent less.

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