The National Coalition on Health Care reported that U.S. health care spending was more than $2.4 trillion in 2008. Although health care reform may or may not come to full fruition, current medical costs remain astoundingly high.
Aside from the few and far between people that somehow seem to be extraordinarily healthy, most of us have certainly felt a financial impact from continually rising medical expenses. After all, it only takes one trip to the local emergency room or one referral to a specialist to find yourself bombarded with costly medical bills. The good news is that you don’t have to wait on health care reform to save the day. There are several ways that you can proactively reduce the cost of your annual health care expenses and save yourself some serious money:
1. Trade in your name brand prescription for a generic equivalent. Generic drugs are usually accompanied by a lower co-pay, which could save you anywhere from $10 to $50 per prescription. Consult with your physician on your existing prescriptions, as well as any time you’re prescribed a new drug, to determine if he/she would be willing to prescribe a generic drug instead of the more costly name-brand drug. This won’t always be possible for each and every drug, but most common, older drugs will have a generic equivalent.
2. Select a primary care physician. The concept of urgent care centers has made them a quick, convenient, and economical alternative to primary care physicians. However, these entities usually don’t attend to routine medical needs and wellness. It’s also very difficult to develop any type of relationship with the staff since you’ll rarely see the same doctor each time. This is why it’s still very important to select a primary care physician with whom you’ll be able to build a relationship and trust. Likewise, you’re likely to save some money and time by your primary care physician knowing your medical history and being able to make more informed decisions when it comes to your health, diagnosis, and treatment.
3. Routinely review all medications you take. Your primary care physician should routinely ask you about each medication you’re prescribed. Be sure to address how long you’ve been taking each of your medications and their effectiveness and side effects. You and your doctor might decide to discontinue a medication you no longer need or that isn’t effective.
4. Don’t automatically get on the new drug bandwagon. You can’t watch an entire television program nowadays without seeing an ad for some new drug purporting itself as the latest miracle in medicine. Some might have a few advantages over their older counterparts, but the real question is if the new, often more expensive drug is worth the added expense. Make sure that you discuss with your physician the cost difference verses any added health benefit before switching to a new drug.
5. Only make an appointment with a specialist when it’s truly necessary. Your primary care physician can often handle a medical problem without you making a more costly visit to a doctor specializing in a particular branch of medicine, such as a dermatologist or rheumatologist. You might consider changing primary care physicians if they seem to refer you constantly to specialists for every medical ailment you come to them about.
6. Remember that emergency rooms are for emergencies only. If you don’t have an actual medical emergency, make an appointment with your primary care physician, go to your physician office’s after-hours clinic, or, as a last resort, use an urgent care center. For non-emergencies, all of the above options will be cheaper than a trip to the emergency room. Before an emergency arises, you should know what your emergency room co-pay is; the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all the hospitals included under your health care network; and what ambulance services your plan covers. Your insurance card should have a phone number for 24-hour emergency assistance that you can call if you’re unsure how to respond to an emergency.
7. Question the necessity of expensive testing. Sometimes medical tests are necessary, but other times they’re just another pointless and costly medical bill. Ask if the test is absolutely necessary before allowing your physician to schedule it.
8. Don’t go overboard with screening. Screening tests can indeed catch many diseases in their infancy stages. That said, too much of anything can be bad. Screening isn’t an infallible process, and if a false alarm does sound, you can be subjected to unnecessary treatments and their costs. Let your medical history and age guide your screening, not what test is popular month-to-month.
9. Don’t jump the gun. Some medical problems, such as a potential stroke or heart attack, require you to seek immediate medical attention. However, more often than not those minor aches and pains, stomach viruses, common colds, and so forth will subside without a visit to the doctor. Give your immune system and/or less costly over-the-counter medications a few days to work before you see the doctor.
10. Be healthy. A healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy weight, routine exercise, alcohol moderation, avoidance of tobacco, routine medical check-ups, and taking all medications as prescribed will help you lower your medical expenses and keep any existing chronic diseases under control.