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Act Now to Cut Your Health Care Bills

It's important to reduce your medical expenses. This is true if you are in a consumer-directed health plan, such as a medical savings account, or have more traditional health insurance. No matter what your plan, you pay at least a percentage of every health care bill you incur.

Of course, the best way to keep your medical costs low is to stay healthy by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and making other healthy lifestyle choices. Along with these important steps, there are other actions you can take to help you control and lower your medical bills.

Practice self-care

Many health problems can be safely and effectively treated at home. You can do a good job of self-care if you:

  • Find accurate information on how to self-treat simple health care problems. If you are in general good health, you can treat a cold, diarrhea, headaches, and muscle aches and pains with over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Ask your pharmacist if you're unsure which medications to take or if you are taking other OTC medications or herbs or supplements. See your provider if your symptoms linger or worsen, or if you have a health condition or are regularly taking prescribed medications.

  • Do self-examinations. Women can do breast self-exams and men can do testicular self-exams every month. Everyone should do self-exams for skin cancer monthly. Ask your provider to show you how to perform these exams.

  • Learn about and manage chronic conditions you may have, such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, and arthritis. Knowing as much as you can about your treatment options and how to follow your provider's treatment plan can help you stabilize your health and reduce the cost of managing the condition.

Get health screenings

Health screenings can help your health care provider diagnose dangerous conditions such as cancer or high cholesterol early, when they're likely to be treated successfully.

To get the most from screenings:

  • Ask your provider to schedule preventive health screenings appropriate for your age and personal health risks. These could include eye examinations, hearing tests, mammograms, Pap tests, cholesterol, blood pressure, stool tests, digital rectal exams, PSA tests, and colonoscopies.

  • Keep a family medical record file at home. That way, if a question arises about immunizations or whether a family member had a certain procedure or took a certain medication, you'll have the information you need and won't risk having a shot or screening duplicated unnecessarily.

  • Be on the lookout for low-cost or free promotions by community health clinics or hospitals for routine health screenings, such as cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, bone density or hearing tests, and inexpensive preventive care such as flu shots.

Be hospital wary

These tips will help you reduce your hospital bill:

  • Avoid hospitalization whenever possible. Consider outpatient services or same-day surgery. Ask if there are alternatives to surgery.

  • Save the ER for emergencies. It can be four or five times more costly to receive services in an ER than in a doctor's office.

  • Avoid weekend or holiday admissions for elective procedures. You receive little medical care on those days, but must pay to occupy the hospital room.

  • Check your hospital bills carefully. Notify your hospital and health plan promptly if you find errors. Look for duplicate billings, unauthorized tests, and charges for medications or tests you didn't receive. Make sure you were billed for the correct room and number of days you occupied it. Question any charges you don't understand.

Manage doctor bills

Your doctor bills for appointments and procedures can be pricey even with a co-payment.

To keep costs down:

  • Build a good relationship with your health care provider. Making sure your provider understands your expectations and needs can result in a more effective treatment plan.

  • Ask your provider about prescribed medications and medical tests. Also ask what will happen if you don't take a drug or have a test.

  • Write down any questions you may have before every provider visit. Bring a list of all OTC and prescribed medicines you take, including any herbs or supplements. During the visit, write down your provider's instructions.

  • Follow your provider's advice. Your doctor may suggest you stop smoking or drinking, start exercising, improve your diet, get more rest, or take prescribed medications.

  • See your regular doctor for most conditions. He or she can diagnose and treat most illnesses and will refer you to an appropriate specialist, if necessary.

  • Ask if simple medical tests or screenings, such as a blood pressure check, can be done without a full office visit charge.

Save on medications

Costs for prescription and OTC medications can add up. To control your drug costs:

  • Ask for generic drugs. Generics are almost always just as effective as name brands but usually cost much less than the brand name.

  • Buy OTC medicines in large quantities to save money. Make sure you'll use all the medication before the expiration date so you won't waste money.

  • Understand insurance benefits

Taking advantage of everything your health insurance plan offers and requires can save you money. Be sure you understand your health insurance policy. Read your manual and updates as they arrive. Ask your supervisor or health benefits representative to explain anything that isn't clear.

Know what your medical benefits cover. You need to know what your benefits are so you can use them. If you have a managed care plan, know about the plan's grievance procedure and use it if you don't feel you're getting adequate care.