The cost of staying healthy is increasing. Health insurance costs are so high that 43.6 million Americans were forced to forgo coverage last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But those who have health insurance are being hit just as hard as the uninsured with out-of-pocket costs, often causing them to postpone medical visits, reports California-based Wage Works, a healthcare benefits administrator. According to Joel Miller, senior vice president of operations for the National Coalition on Health Care, consumers are shelling out the most cash for drugs, office visits, and hospital stays. The following tips can help you lower costs in these high-priced areas:
A. PRESCRIPTION DRUGS
Don’t get caught up in name brands. In some instances you can save 50% or more. For example, a 30-day supply of the cholesterol drug Zocor (40mg) costs $328.20. Its generic equivalent, Simvastatin, costs $17.40 — that’s a savings of $310.
“I am a big supporter of generic medications because they’re a lot cheaper,” says Dr. Stephen Wilson, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “And they essentially have the same chemical compound that you would find in the name brand.”
To find generic equivalents, go to www.fda.gov/cder/ob/ default.htm and search under the brand name or active ingredient.
Compare prices. Call or visit several local pharmacies to see which offers the lowest price. It might also be cheaper to shop via your insurance company’s mail service or online. Visit the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy Website, http://vipps.nabp.net/ verify.asp, to access a list of Internet pharmacies that adhere to its safety and consumer rights recommendations. Also, compare prices at Pharmacy Checker, www.pharmacychecker.com.
B. OFFICE VISITS
Look for free services. Lions Clubs International (www.lionsclubs.org) offers free vision and health screenings and recycled eyeglasses. In addition, if you are 65 or older, you can take advantage of free eye care offered through the EyeCare America program (www.eyecaream erica.org). Jessica Banthin of the Agency for Healthcare and Research Quality recommends attending health fairs as a way to learn about preventive care and receive free evaluations.
Book an appointment at a medical school. Some medical schools have clinics that offer low-cost services, which provide a cost-effective yet safe alternative to visiting a doctor’s office. “Medical students may take your medical history, but a physician follows up,” explains Dr. Wilson. “A supervising physician comes up with a diagnosis and treatment plan.”
C. HOSPITAL STAYS
Read your bill. Ask for a copy of your bill. You might catch duplicate charges or coding errors. “Ask questions, particularly of the hospital and your insurance provider. Ask what things cost, why you’re being charged, and what’s being covered,” says Dr. Wilson.
Negotiate your fee. Sometimes you can negotiate with your healthcare provider or physician. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the uninsured, underinsured, and Medicare beneficiaries who can’t pay their bill are eligible for discounts.
Take care of yourself. “Many patients don’t fill their prescriptions, or they don’t see their doctor regularly,” says Miller, “and end up in the emergency room.” Chronic illnesses