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Friday, February 26, 2010

How to Save Money on Healthcare

These days health care costs are a big deal. So many people have overwhelming financial struggles because of their health care bills. As a nurse, and just with my interactions with people, I have heard so many sad stories of people with enormous medical bills that sometimes took decades to pay off. Some of these costs could have been prevented if people understood and were better prepared, and unfortunately some could not. But as a nurse and as a friend this is what I would recommend to try to prevent those stressful situations.
  1. Wash your hands! And wash your kids' hands! This is the best way to prevent illness. Use hand sanitizer. It's not as good as a thorough hand washing, but it's still much better than an un-thorough hand washing.
  2. Open an FSA (Flexible Spending Account) if your company offers one. You decide the amount to put in and the money is taken out of your check pre-tax for things you are buying anyway. (And there is an enormous list of things that qualify.)
  3. Get health insurance, even if you think that you don't need it or can't afford it, try to get something. You can't predict the future and you don't know when you might need it. (However, there is an exception to this. I have a relative who has a rare genetic disease, and is considered "uninsurable". It costs him nothing to manage his disease, but if he doesn't it can lead to organ failure. He can get insurance through the state, but it's not very good coverage and when he looked into it ten years ago, premiums would cost $1200 each month for himself alone. In cases like this, you are better off paying out of pocket on an as needed basis.)
  4. Shop around for your health insurance. What your employer offers isn't necessarily the best option for you and your family.
  5. Understand your health insurance, especially when it comes to hospitalisations. Before you are admitted to the hospital understand your coverage. It is not your doctor's, nurse's or therapist's job to understand what or will not be covered. It is yours. There are many times in my work I see patients who I think "Are you sure you want to make that choice? Because I'm willing to bet money that your insurance will not pay for that." But I am not allowed to say that, medical billing is not in the scope of my practice. I just do what the doctor orders. Really, taking the time to understand your health insurance can save you thousands of dollars.
  6. Examine all of your options. I had a co-worker who's husband was "uninsurable". He found that he could get his medical equipment from India for 1/4th of the cost. 
  7. Exercise  regularly. It will help you to feel better and can save you thousands down the road by helping to prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease to name a few.
  8. Eat a well balanced diet and drink plenty of water. Same story.
  9. Check out your local health department. They often offer discounted vaccinations, assistance programs, and classes on improving your health.
  10. If your insurance company denies your claim, call and ask why. I have had this happen to me several times with a few different insurance companies and every single time when questioned, the insurance company covered at least part if not all of my claim. It's always worth a shot. "Oh really, that's funny, because I thought that classifying pregnancy as a pre-existing condition was against federal law." Every single time.
  11. Use preferred providers. Some insurance companies have a list of providers that they are contracted with and the upshot is that when you go to these people your bill is significantly less. When you've picked someone and you want to find out what your coverage is don't ask "Do you accept X insurance?", ask "Are you a preferred provider for X insurance?" A small difference in phrasing that again can save you thousands of dollars.
  12. Keep track of your receipts. For your FSA or your taxes.
  13. Compare prices at various pharmacies.
  14. Take care of your teeth. Floss daily and spend the extra money on a quality toothbrush. It's worth the investment of time and money.
  15. Listen to your gut feeling. If you think something is wrong with yourself or your child speak out and don't be silenced until somebody listens. It really ticks me off when a doctor doesn't listen and in the end they discover something terrible that could have been treated or prevented if someone had just listened to the child's mother.

Monday is the last day to enter this month's give-away.

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