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Monday, December 18, 2006

Seven Tips To Help You Control Health Insurance Costs

The issue of health care touches the lives of virtually everyone. As a result, there are very few people unaware of the ever-increasing health care costs. Many of the factors responsible for this “crisis” – for example, new technologies – cannot be controlled by the typical health care consumer. Nevertheless, there are some actions you can take that will help reduce your out-of-pocket expenses, without risking the well being of you and your family.

First, with the vast majority of health insurance plans utilizing networks of participating doctors and hospitals, it pays to stay within this network. Insurance companies are able to negotiate a discount with these participating providers, which translate into fewer out-of-pocket expenses for you, the insured. When you go outside your network of providers, you do not enjoy these savings and will almost certainly incur greater costs.

Second, choose generic drugs whenever possible. It has been reported that the pharmaceutical industry spends more than $2 billion advertising more expensive name brand drugs. In many situations, you can save significant money by using the generic version of a drug. The next time your primary care physician writes a prescription for you, be sure to inquire about any generic options.

Third, only go the emergency room for emergencies. For non-emergency care for such things as a cold or minor sprain, consider using an urgent care facility. Of course, if you have any doubts about the severity of your condition, go the ER. Nevertheless, keep in mind that most health insurance plans charge higher co-pays for emergency room care than they do for an office visit or urgent care.

Fourth, follow doctor’s orders when it comes to medication. Not refilling a prescription in order to save money in the short run may very well cost you more long term. Indeed, if you fail to continue with your medication as prescribed by your doctor, you may develop a much more serious medical ailment requiring more expensive medical care or even hospitalization.

Fifth, for outpatient surgery, look into using an ambulatory surgery center. Such freestanding surgery and diagnostic centers, that are not a hospital or run by a hospital, typically charge less than hospitals for tests such as MRI’s, CAT scans, and bone density scans. Of course, before using one of these facilities, make sure that it is within your network and that the test or treatment is a covered benefit.

Six, if you suffer from chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, ask your doctor about home testing and monitoring devices. Home testing, in close coordination and reporting with your primary care physician, is cheaper than in-office testing. The next time you visit your doctor, ask whether such testing might be an option for you.

Lastly, in terms of health-related costs, one of the best ways to same money is simply by taking better care of yourself. With this in mind, many health insurance plans offer programs designed to help keep you healthy, and often save you money at the same time. These may be disease management (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, asthma) as well as preventative programs. Preventative programs may include weight loss, stopping smoking, and stress management.

As a health care consumer, it may seem at times that there is absolutely nothing you can do to gain some control over the spiraling costs of health care. While there are factors that cannot be controlled by the average consumer, in this article we have discussed seven actions that you can take immediately to help control costs. It may also pay to consult with your Human Resources department, or your health insurance agent, to discuss additional ways to help rein in your out-of-pocket health care expenses.

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