By: Red Hot Mamas
Published: May 26, 2010
Starting off on the right foot is a challenge for many of us this year, for several reasons. Many aspects of our nation are in a dismal state. The economy really can’t get much worse than it was at the end of 2008. Many of us are left struggling with unemployment, foreclosures and (for me) a stack of bills that I’m thinking about converting into a stepping stool for my very tall husband. Eek!
2009 needs to be different for my wallet before the bills and debt are taken to any higher levels of absurdity. Like many victims of the 2008 financial crisis, I am looking to cut costs. Out of pocket healthcare costs are no exception. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to forgo any medical care or quality of care that I need. I am simply looking to lower my bills and prescription costs.
So, here is my list of Top 5 Ways I am Committed to Slashing my Healthcare Costs in 2009:
1. Stay Healthy by Exercising
Take care of yourself. Here’s my theory: If you stay healthy, you have less visits to the doctor, fewer prescriptions, hence, you can eliminate expenditures.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, inactive adults have significantly higher direct medical costs than active adults, and the costs associated with physical activity increases with age. So, exercise more! Try exercising first without a gym membership. Going to the gym is a huge expense to reach fitness goals that may be accomplished in other ways. What activities do you enjoy at the gym? Running on the treadmill? Try running outside instead. If it’s winter, simply put on a few layers of extra clothing. Lifting weights? Invest in a few pairs of your favorites.
If you simply can’t find the right activity to ful fill your daily fitness needs without a trip to the gym, ask your insurance company about reimbursements. Several major health insurance and third party providers (Healthways SilverSneakers, AARP, Blue Cross Blue Shield) offer reimbursements and incentives for membership for Curves women’s fitness centers.
The way insurance companies see it, they save money by having you stay healthy. In a recent Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota study, gym-goers who visited at least eight times a month had:
- 39 percent fewer visits to the Emergency Room
- 41 percent fewer hospital admissions
- 18 percent lower overall claims costs
Lisa Singleton, the owner of Curves in Hampstead, Maryland claims, “For every dollar you spend on wellness, you save as much as five dollars on illness.”
The bottom line on fitness: the more you put in, the less you have to pay in the long run. By not staying active, you are not only putting your health at risk but your pocketbook as well.
2. Start a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Arrangement (FSA)
The federal government set up a tax-free way to save money for medical expenses that you incur during the year. Any contributions you or your employers make to your account are not subject to federal income taxes, most state taxes or social security taxes.
Eligible expenses must be qualified medical, vision, pharmacy or dental benefit expenses (as defined in Section 213(d) of the Internal Revenue Code and include:
- Health plan copays
- Dental work, including orthodontics
- Doctor’s fees
- Eye exams and glasses
- Contact lenses and saline solution
- Hearing aids
- Chiropractic treatment
- Lab fees
- Over-the-counter medications (if your plan allows)
- Mental health counseling
HSA funds can be rolled over and accumulate year after year if not spent. FSAs do not roll over to the following year; you must use the funds by the end of the year or else you will basically be forfeiting the funds.
Aetna benefits expert, Laurie Brubaker calculates a $450 savings for a person making $25,000 a year who sets aside $2,000 in an HSA. Your particular income and savings plan may be different but can be calculated at: http://www.aetnafsa.com/fsa/index.php. HSAs may not be right for you but, it’s worth exploring the savings option if it will relieve you from some taxes at the end of the year!
3. Know Your Insurance
Remaining insured or becoming insured is important not only for emergency situations but also for treating any of your current conditions. Insurance may seem to be a large expenditure now but, not having any insurance could cost you more in the long run. It is a necessary expenditure but one that you may be able to save on if you have the right plan.
Knowing the ins and outs of your plan will help you save money. Keep in mind, the lowest premium may not be the cheapest plan. Check to see if your plan costs you more up-front than what they cover. It sounds obvious, but many times people get caught up in the lowest premium and end up paying for services that aren’t covered.
Only seek physicians in your plan’s approved network. You may be paying more for a physician outside of your network while there are plenty of highly credentialed physicians who are covered by your insurance company.
Look at your claims and bills closely. A lot of mistakes can occur when it comes to claims. You may be denied coverage due to a mistake your insurance company made or a mischarge from a doctor or hospital visit, etc. It pays to take a closer look. Most policies can be found online but if you have any hesitation about your statements, call your company and have them explain the fees and coverage to you. If you are denied a claim and think it is unfair, get all of your records and documentation in line and try appealing it. You may be right!
4. Ask for Help
Save money by visiting a clinic in your neighborhood. Don’t go to the emergency room if you can’t get into your doctor quickly. Clinics are popping up everywhere these days and most likely, there is one in your neighborhood. Save the ton of money you would spend in the emergency room. Many skilled, qualified healthcare practitioners work at clinics that may even offer free health care services to those who really can’t afford it as well as the uninsured. Ask them if you qualify for free or discounted services!
If your insurance doesn’t cover a doctor’s visit, or if you are paying out of pocket for the visit, don’t reach for your credit card so quickly. Ask the secretary at the doctor’s office if you can set up a payment plan for your services. Quite often, they will allow you to pay a minimum each month until the entire bill is paid off.
Help your pocket book by spreading out your doctor’s appointments. Don’t worry about getting all of your visits out of the way at once. Try stretching them out over the year. Try consolidating preventative care visits. Your ob-gyn can take care of a lot of services you may think may be only accomplished through your
general practitioner. Why pay multiple physicians for several services when one can manage all your care?
Ask your state or local health department about any free services or procedures you may be eligible to receive. You may not even know the extra coverage you’re eligible to receive through your state if you don’t ask!
5. Shop Around
If your employer offers health insurance, by all means, use it! The coverage and costs will most likely be better than anything you can get on your own. But, if you need to purchase insurance on your own, it really pays to compare plans and shop around. The task may be daunting and time consuming but it will help you determine the best deal for the benefits provided. You may gain the most from a plan with a higher deductible accompanied by a health-savings account. Depending on your plan options, this type of plan may mean the least out-of-pocket expenses for you.
Call your doctor and discuss the prescriptions you are currently taking. Determine whether you still need all of them. Is there any way you can cut the number to lower your pharmacy bill? Call the pharmacies in your area and ask how much they charge for your specific prescriptions. Many generic options are also available.
The National Center for Policy Analysis in Washington, D.C., compared prices among local pharmacies. They found consumers can save up to 10% on brand-name drugs and up to 81% on generic drugs by shopping around! Some pharmacies will even match the lowest prices of certain prescriptions. Check the prices in your area: http://www.drx.com/.
Many people don’t think about it but, drug coupons are also available. Check out this website I found that offers hundreds of coupons you may find useful: http://www.internetdrugcoupons.com/.
Keep In Mind
Remember, cutting health care costs does not mean compromising your actual care. If you are sick, or need to go to the doctor, don’t dismiss your symptoms. Don’t scrimp on the care you need or you’ll end up spending more for any complications that may result from your condition.
In this bright New Year, I am hopeful and optimistic. I look forward to an expeditious turn of the 2008 page to a clean slate in 2009. It will be a fresh start to a new year of positive change for me. I will not let the newspaper headlines bring me down and I refuse to be overwhelmed by the clutter of paperwork that is my financial situation. I will continue to look for some deep savings techniques that will lighten my health care costs.
Hitti, Miranda. "Cutting Health Care Costs: Doctor Visits." WebMD Health News 10 12 2008 13 Jan 2009
Kritz, Francesca Lunzer. "Cut Health Costs, Not Your Care." LA Times 29 12 2008 13 Jan 2009
Mathews, Anne Wilde. "This Open-Enrollment Season, Beware of Out-of-Pocket Costs." The Wall Street Journal 09 10 2008 13 Jan 2009
"Money 101: Lesson 16 — Top Things to Know." CNN Money 13 Jan 2009
"Research Shows Exercise Keeps Money in Your Wallet And Other Great Reasons to Head to the Gym." 27 12 2008 13 Jan 2009
Van Dusen, Allison. "How To Save Money On Health Care." Forbes Health 17 09 2008 13 Jan 2009