Consumer tips for saving money on health care

Jul 22 2014
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Many people don’t realize that their health benefit plan may do more than cover specific medical costs – many plans include incentives and tools to help you save money. By taking a few small steps, it is possible to keep or put cash back in your pocket.

Save with mail order

Many health plans offer discounts if you use mail-order pharmacies for routine medications. You could get a three-month supply of your drug but only pay for a two-month prescription. So, if your family spends $50 per month on prescriptions, you could save about $200 per year. You would likely take advantage of a “buy two, get one free” deal at a department store or grocery store, so why not do it with your prescriptions as well?

Go generic

Most people know that brand-name prescription drugs typically cost more than their generic equivalent. By switching just one prescription from a brand name drug to a generic, you could cut your out of pocket costs significantly. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns, but generally doctors also recommend generics.

Stay in your network

Make sure your doctor is in your health plan’s network. Even if your health benefits plan has out-of-network benefits, it usually costs considerably less to use an in-network physician. Depending on where you live, a simple outpatient surgical procedure such as a colonoscopy could cost significantly more if you go out-of-network. If your doctor is not in the network, ask if she or he will consider joining. Don’t let your money go to waste – you could use the savings to cover other household costs, save for retirement or take a little vacation.

Try virtual consultation

Some doctors offer online consultations for non-urgent issues. If you can take advantage of this convenient service, talk to your doctor or your insurer to find out how to use online visits properly. With telemedicine, you could save both time and money, and get answers sooner for non-urgent medical issues.

Focus on wellness

Many health insurance companies and employers offer “wellness incentives,” which are often considerable. For example, some employers are starting to offer cash credits as part of their benefit plan when employees exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. Keeping your health benefits company updated on your health also enables them to tailor your health program to fit your needs.

Check the cost before you buy

It wasn’t long ago that most people would cringe at the thought of asking about the cost of a health care procedure recommended by a doctor. Now with more of their own money at stake, patients are acting more like consumers. For the do-it-yourselfers, there are resources like the one compiled by the Wall Street Journal. Some insurers, like Aetna, are providing tools that help get beyond some of the pricing complexities that are unique to health care. Instead of asking patients to search through network directories or rely on their doctors, who rarely know price information, Aetna has developed the Member Payment Estimator. The tool came out in 2010 and provides real-time cost comparisons.