Health care is expensive. Even with insurance coverage, we are paying more out of our own pocket these days. But as with any other product or service be it home repair, entertainment options or airline tickets health care costs can be lowered. The smart health care consumers keep more money in their pocket.
Smart Business spoke to Eugene Sun, M.D., MBA, vice president of medical affairs for HealthAmerica, about practical ways to save on health care costs.
What are some ways the average consumer can save on health care costs?
The easiest way to save money is on medication. Prescription drugs are expensive, but there are values to be had. I advise people to shop around. Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs (www.bestbuydrugs.org) is a free public education service from the nonprofit Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. Its Web site can help you research the effectiveness, safety and cost of many widely used prescription drugs. Discuss what you learn with your doctor or pharmacist.
Can we really save money through preventive services?
Prevention is cheaper than treatment. Common sense tells us that avoiding serious illness, or catching it in its early stages when it is less severe and easier to treat, will cost less. Yet, fewer than half of all Americans are taking advantage of colon cancer screenings, smoking cessation programs, blood pressure screenings, daily aspirin and other preventive measures that can save both lives and health care dollars.
Of course, living right to begin with is vital. An apple a day, and these other basic rules of health, will help keep the doctor bills away:
- Get eight hours of sleep each night.
- Eat breakfast every morning.
- Cut down on snacks between meals.
- Keep within 10 pounds of your recommended weight. If you’re unsure what your weight should be, check with your doctor.
- Exercise aerobically for at least 30 minutes three times per week.
- Don’t smoke.
- Don’t drink more than two alcoholic beverages per day.
- Take recommended dosages of vitamins and supplements.
How can someone work with his or her health plan to save costs?
I recommend reading your plan documentation. What’s covered? How much is covered? How much comes out of your pocket? Take emergency coverage: Do you know what your co-payment or deductible is for emergency room care? Do you need prior authorization? Is there a lower-cost option for urgent care? Learn the answers now, before you need emergency or urgent care.
If you have a medical problem that is not a true emergency, be sure to call your primary care physician or doctor first. Doctors are often on call 24 hours a day to advise you. Your doctor knows you, your medical history and the best place to go for your care.
How about getting something for free? Is there any such thing?
There is free advice out there and smart consumers use it. Does your plan offer a 24 hour hot line for free medical advice? If it doesn’t, the government does. Call the National Health Information Center toll free at (800) 336-4797. Ask about anything, from hearing aids and cancer to Alzheimer’s disease and pregnancy issues.
You can also find many free services. Hospitals, clinics, employers and other organizations often sponsor blood pressure checks, shots for your children, free contraceptives and/or advice, and other preventive health care at little to no cost.
What else can we do to save money on our health care?
Staying safe at home not only makes sense, but it’s also a way to save money. Inexpensive home supplies can prevent falls, fires and other accidents that could send you to the doctor or hospital:
- Make sure the stairways are adequately lit, with nonskid stair surfaces and handrails.
- Bathtubs should have nonslip surfaces or bath mats.
- Area rugs should have nonskid backings, or should be anchored to the floor with double-sided or masking tape. Or do not use them at all.
- Have smoke alarms on every level of your home. Make sure a smoke alarm is inside or near every bedroom.
- Never store gasoline or highly flammable liquids inside your house.
- Keep a fire extinguisher on every floor.
- Install a carbon monoxide detector if you don’t already have one.
- Keep medicines and cleaning supplies out of the reach of children.
For more ways to save money, visit www.healthinsurance.org and click on ‘Reducing Health Care Costs.’
EUGENE SUN, M.D., MBA, is vice president of medical affairs for HealthAmerica. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (412) 553-7549.