Cut Your Medical Costs

Reviewed Dec 14, 2016

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Summary

  • Choose the most cost-effective facility for care.
  • Ask about financial assistance programs.
  • Look for savings on prescription drugs.

These days, you have more than your health to worry about if you fall ill. Your financial well-being could be in danger as well.

The economy may have its ups and downs, but one thing stays the same: Health care keeps getting more expensive. Even with insurance, high deductibles and co-payments stemming from a serious illness can lead to bankruptcy. In fact, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) cites a recent study showing that 65 percent of all bad debts related to health care came from those who are insured.

There are ways to cut your health care costs, and the best time to start is before you need care. But you can help yourself after the fact as well. Here are some tips for saving money on medical care that even the fully insured should know.

Get care where it’s cheapest

In a genuine life-and-death situation, the nearest emergency room is the place to go.

But for non-emergency care you can save a lot of money by choosing the least expensive venue. This could be a convenience-care clinic at your local big-box retailer or drugstore chain. These clinics are staffed by nurses who can deal with minor illness or injuries and prescribe a limited list of drugs. They tend to be less expensive than doctor offices or urgent-care centers. They are much cheaper than emergency rooms. Call your insurer’s help-line to see if the clinic you want to use is covered by your plan.

Occasional use of such a clinic doesn’t replace the need for an ongoing relationship with a health care provider who knows you.

Ask about financial help and discounts

All pharmaceutical companies with exclusive brand-name drugs on the market have programs to help people pay for their products, says Jack Fincham, Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. He advises working with your provider to locate the program that might help you.

Even those who are insured should ask about these and any other programs to help them pay bills or make their co-pays. The drug industry’s Partnership for Prescription Assistance has a site (www.pparx.org/) that enables consumers to check for discount programs on the medicines they are using.

Insured or not, you should be checking online and with your provider for any other programs or discounts that may help you. Benefits Checkup (www.benefitscheckup.org), an online service of the National Council on Aging, has questionnaires to determine your eligibility for assistance and more than 600 application forms for programs.

Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts from doctors or hospitals, especially if you are willing to pay upfront so that the provider doesn’t have to wait for payment from an insurer. You can start by asking what a person with Medicare would be charged for your treatment. It may be as much as 50 percent lower than the price you would pay.

Save money with generic drugs and samples

Generics are drugs with active ingredients that are chemically identical to those of brand-name medicines that have gone off-patent. They are sometimes much cheaper than equivalent branded drugs, and many are sold at very low prices through pharmacies at large retail chains. If there is a generic drug for your condition that works just as well as the brand product, you’re in luck.

Fincham says you may have to check different stores to see if a given drug is available; not all stock the same list of medicines. He also sounds a note of caution on generics for conditions (such as seizures) where there is a “narrow therapeutic index”—that is, little room for variability in the drug’s effect. Switching between branded and generic drugs in such cases can be dangerous.

There is also such a thing as a free drug. Physicians get plenty of samples from drug companies. Your medicine may be in your provider’s cabinet of freebies. Ask about it.

Act like a consumer

Money should never be a taboo topic at the doctor’s office or the hospital. With people paying more for their care out-of-pocket, even with good insurance plans, providers need to get used to treating them as cost-conscious consumers.

Ask about Medicare rates (see above). Also, ask providers whether they accept payment at insurance companies’ rates—which are often steeply discounted—as payment in full.

Check to see if your insurer has web tools that enable you to search for local doctors, with information on their fees and quality of service. And don’t assume that all hospitals or free-standing clinics charge about the same for tests such as MRIs. Costs can vary widely in a small area.

Ask which tests and other procedures are truly necessary and which are merely optional. You can save money here by setting some priorities.

Check the bill

Hospital bills are complex documents with obscure codes adding up to huge sums of money. Errors are common, and they have a way of not breaking in your favor. Work with your doctor or another knowledgeable advocate to examine all bills. Note any items that you want to question or do not understand. If you’re too ill or intimidated to take on the hospital, find a family member or friend to serve as your advocate.

Cautions about medical credit cards

If you are already struggling with unpaid medical bills, be cautious about applying for a medical credit card. These transfer your medical debt away from the provider and onto a new card, buying you some time. Typically the cards give you several months or more to pay off the debt without interest.

But there are dangers, says NFCC spokeswoman Gail Cunningham:

  • The card will eventually charge an interest rate. When it does, it’s likely to be much higher than anything the hospital would have charged.
  • Failure to make a payment exactly on time can trigger a charge for back interest, at double-digit rates, all the way back to the date that you got the card. Read the fine print.
  • Shifting a hefty load of debt to a new credit card will hurt your credit score.

Cunningham also says a hospital may be more flexible in settling your debt: “You can work out something with the hospital. But once you’re with a credit card, they’re going to act like a credit-card company.”

Resources

Websites

Here are some of the most comprehensive sites with a national reach. You should also check to see what your insurer and state health agency offer.
Medline Plus
www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus
Information on drugs: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginformation.html
Sources of financial assistance: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/financialassistance.html

The American Hospital Association
www.aha.org/research/rc/links/consumer-index.shtml
Use this site to locate websites that can help you navigate the health care system and find sources of help.

The Partnership for Prescription Assistance
www.pparx.org/

Benefits Checkup
www.benefitscheckup.org

Articles

“10 Ways to Cut Your Medical Bills”
www.kiplinger.com/article/insurance/T027-C000-S002-10-ways-to-cut-your-medical-bills.html

“10 Ways to Save on Health Care Costs” www.bankrate.com/finance/insurance/10-ways-to-save-on-health-care-costs-1.aspx

By Tom Gray
Source: Jack Fincham, PhD, Rap., Professor of Pharmacy Practice, School of Pharmacy, University of Missouri–Kansas City; National Foundation for Credit Counseling; Medline Plus

Summary

  • Choose the most cost-effective facility for care.
  • Ask about financial assistance programs.
  • Look for savings on prescription drugs.

These days, you have more than your health to worry about if you fall ill. Your financial well-being could be in danger as well.

The economy may have its ups and downs, but one thing stays the same: Health care keeps getting more expensive. Even with insurance, high deductibles and co-payments stemming from a serious illness can lead to bankruptcy. In fact, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) cites a recent study showing that 65 percent of all bad debts related to health care came from those who are insured.

There are ways to cut your health care costs, and the best time to start is before you need care. But you can help yourself after the fact as well. Here are some tips for saving money on medical care that even the fully insured should know.

Get care where it’s cheapest

In a genuine life-and-death situation, the nearest emergency room is the place to go.

But for non-emergency care you can save a lot of money by choosing the least expensive venue. This could be a convenience-care clinic at your local big-box retailer or drugstore chain. These clinics are staffed by nurses who can deal with minor illness or injuries and prescribe a limited list of drugs. They tend to be less expensive than doctor offices or urgent-care centers. They are much cheaper than emergency rooms. Call your insurer’s help-line to see if the clinic you want to use is covered by your plan.

Occasional use of such a clinic doesn’t replace the need for an ongoing relationship with a health care provider who knows you.

Ask about financial help and discounts

All pharmaceutical companies with exclusive brand-name drugs on the market have programs to help people pay for their products, says Jack Fincham, Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. He advises working with your provider to locate the program that might help you.

Even those who are insured should ask about these and any other programs to help them pay bills or make their co-pays. The drug industry’s Partnership for Prescription Assistance has a site (www.pparx.org/) that enables consumers to check for discount programs on the medicines they are using.

Insured or not, you should be checking online and with your provider for any other programs or discounts that may help you. Benefits Checkup (www.benefitscheckup.org), an online service of the National Council on Aging, has questionnaires to determine your eligibility for assistance and more than 600 application forms for programs.

Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts from doctors or hospitals, especially if you are willing to pay upfront so that the provider doesn’t have to wait for payment from an insurer. You can start by asking what a person with Medicare would be charged for your treatment. It may be as much as 50 percent lower than the price you would pay.

Save money with generic drugs and samples

Generics are drugs with active ingredients that are chemically identical to those of brand-name medicines that have gone off-patent. They are sometimes much cheaper than equivalent branded drugs, and many are sold at very low prices through pharmacies at large retail chains. If there is a generic drug for your condition that works just as well as the brand product, you’re in luck.

Fincham says you may have to check different stores to see if a given drug is available; not all stock the same list of medicines. He also sounds a note of caution on generics for conditions (such as seizures) where there is a “narrow therapeutic index”—that is, little room for variability in the drug’s effect. Switching between branded and generic drugs in such cases can be dangerous.

There is also such a thing as a free drug. Physicians get plenty of samples from drug companies. Your medicine may be in your provider’s cabinet of freebies. Ask about it.

Act like a consumer

Money should never be a taboo topic at the doctor’s office or the hospital. With people paying more for their care out-of-pocket, even with good insurance plans, providers need to get used to treating them as cost-conscious consumers.

Ask about Medicare rates (see above). Also, ask providers whether they accept payment at insurance companies’ rates—which are often steeply discounted—as payment in full.

Check to see if your insurer has web tools that enable you to search for local doctors, with information on their fees and quality of service. And don’t assume that all hospitals or free-standing clinics charge about the same for tests such as MRIs. Costs can vary widely in a small area.

Ask which tests and other procedures are truly necessary and which are merely optional. You can save money here by setting some priorities.

Check the bill

Hospital bills are complex documents with obscure codes adding up to huge sums of money. Errors are common, and they have a way of not breaking in your favor. Work with your doctor or another knowledgeable advocate to examine all bills. Note any items that you want to question or do not understand. If you’re too ill or intimidated to take on the hospital, find a family member or friend to serve as your advocate.

Cautions about medical credit cards

If you are already struggling with unpaid medical bills, be cautious about applying for a medical credit card. These transfer your medical debt away from the provider and onto a new card, buying you some time. Typically the cards give you several months or more to pay off the debt without interest.

But there are dangers, says NFCC spokeswoman Gail Cunningham:

  • The card will eventually charge an interest rate. When it does, it’s likely to be much higher than anything the hospital would have charged.
  • Failure to make a payment exactly on time can trigger a charge for back interest, at double-digit rates, all the way back to the date that you got the card. Read the fine print.
  • Shifting a hefty load of debt to a new credit card will hurt your credit score.

Cunningham also says a hospital may be more flexible in settling your debt: “You can work out something with the hospital. But once you’re with a credit card, they’re going to act like a credit-card company.”

Resources

Websites

Here are some of the most comprehensive sites with a national reach. You should also check to see what your insurer and state health agency offer.
Medline Plus
www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus
Information on drugs: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginformation.html
Sources of financial assistance: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/financialassistance.html

The American Hospital Association
www.aha.org/research/rc/links/consumer-index.shtml
Use this site to locate websites that can help you navigate the health care system and find sources of help.

The Partnership for Prescription Assistance
www.pparx.org/

Benefits Checkup
www.benefitscheckup.org

Articles

“10 Ways to Cut Your Medical Bills”
www.kiplinger.com/article/insurance/T027-C000-S002-10-ways-to-cut-your-medical-bills.html

“10 Ways to Save on Health Care Costs” www.bankrate.com/finance/insurance/10-ways-to-save-on-health-care-costs-1.aspx

By Tom Gray
Source: Jack Fincham, PhD, Rap., Professor of Pharmacy Practice, School of Pharmacy, University of Missouri–Kansas City; National Foundation for Credit Counseling; Medline Plus

Summary

  • Choose the most cost-effective facility for care.
  • Ask about financial assistance programs.
  • Look for savings on prescription drugs.

These days, you have more than your health to worry about if you fall ill. Your financial well-being could be in danger as well.

The economy may have its ups and downs, but one thing stays the same: Health care keeps getting more expensive. Even with insurance, high deductibles and co-payments stemming from a serious illness can lead to bankruptcy. In fact, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) cites a recent study showing that 65 percent of all bad debts related to health care came from those who are insured.

There are ways to cut your health care costs, and the best time to start is before you need care. But you can help yourself after the fact as well. Here are some tips for saving money on medical care that even the fully insured should know.

Get care where it’s cheapest

In a genuine life-and-death situation, the nearest emergency room is the place to go.

But for non-emergency care you can save a lot of money by choosing the least expensive venue. This could be a convenience-care clinic at your local big-box retailer or drugstore chain. These clinics are staffed by nurses who can deal with minor illness or injuries and prescribe a limited list of drugs. They tend to be less expensive than doctor offices or urgent-care centers. They are much cheaper than emergency rooms. Call your insurer’s help-line to see if the clinic you want to use is covered by your plan.

Occasional use of such a clinic doesn’t replace the need for an ongoing relationship with a health care provider who knows you.

Ask about financial help and discounts

All pharmaceutical companies with exclusive brand-name drugs on the market have programs to help people pay for their products, says Jack Fincham, Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. He advises working with your provider to locate the program that might help you.

Even those who are insured should ask about these and any other programs to help them pay bills or make their co-pays. The drug industry’s Partnership for Prescription Assistance has a site (www.pparx.org/) that enables consumers to check for discount programs on the medicines they are using.

Insured or not, you should be checking online and with your provider for any other programs or discounts that may help you. Benefits Checkup (www.benefitscheckup.org), an online service of the National Council on Aging, has questionnaires to determine your eligibility for assistance and more than 600 application forms for programs.

Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts from doctors or hospitals, especially if you are willing to pay upfront so that the provider doesn’t have to wait for payment from an insurer. You can start by asking what a person with Medicare would be charged for your treatment. It may be as much as 50 percent lower than the price you would pay.

Save money with generic drugs and samples

Generics are drugs with active ingredients that are chemically identical to those of brand-name medicines that have gone off-patent. They are sometimes much cheaper than equivalent branded drugs, and many are sold at very low prices through pharmacies at large retail chains. If there is a generic drug for your condition that works just as well as the brand product, you’re in luck.

Fincham says you may have to check different stores to see if a given drug is available; not all stock the same list of medicines. He also sounds a note of caution on generics for conditions (such as seizures) where there is a “narrow therapeutic index”—that is, little room for variability in the drug’s effect. Switching between branded and generic drugs in such cases can be dangerous.

There is also such a thing as a free drug. Physicians get plenty of samples from drug companies. Your medicine may be in your provider’s cabinet of freebies. Ask about it.

Act like a consumer

Money should never be a taboo topic at the doctor’s office or the hospital. With people paying more for their care out-of-pocket, even with good insurance plans, providers need to get used to treating them as cost-conscious consumers.

Ask about Medicare rates (see above). Also, ask providers whether they accept payment at insurance companies’ rates—which are often steeply discounted—as payment in full.

Check to see if your insurer has web tools that enable you to search for local doctors, with information on their fees and quality of service. And don’t assume that all hospitals or free-standing clinics charge about the same for tests such as MRIs. Costs can vary widely in a small area.

Ask which tests and other procedures are truly necessary and which are merely optional. You can save money here by setting some priorities.

Check the bill

Hospital bills are complex documents with obscure codes adding up to huge sums of money. Errors are common, and they have a way of not breaking in your favor. Work with your doctor or another knowledgeable advocate to examine all bills. Note any items that you want to question or do not understand. If you’re too ill or intimidated to take on the hospital, find a family member or friend to serve as your advocate.

Cautions about medical credit cards

If you are already struggling with unpaid medical bills, be cautious about applying for a medical credit card. These transfer your medical debt away from the provider and onto a new card, buying you some time. Typically the cards give you several months or more to pay off the debt without interest.

But there are dangers, says NFCC spokeswoman Gail Cunningham:

  • The card will eventually charge an interest rate. When it does, it’s likely to be much higher than anything the hospital would have charged.
  • Failure to make a payment exactly on time can trigger a charge for back interest, at double-digit rates, all the way back to the date that you got the card. Read the fine print.
  • Shifting a hefty load of debt to a new credit card will hurt your credit score.

Cunningham also says a hospital may be more flexible in settling your debt: “You can work out something with the hospital. But once you’re with a credit card, they’re going to act like a credit-card company.”

Resources

Websites

Here are some of the most comprehensive sites with a national reach. You should also check to see what your insurer and state health agency offer.
Medline Plus
www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus
Information on drugs: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginformation.html
Sources of financial assistance: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/financialassistance.html

The American Hospital Association
www.aha.org/research/rc/links/consumer-index.shtml
Use this site to locate websites that can help you navigate the health care system and find sources of help.

The Partnership for Prescription Assistance
www.pparx.org/

Benefits Checkup
www.benefitscheckup.org

Articles

“10 Ways to Cut Your Medical Bills”
www.kiplinger.com/article/insurance/T027-C000-S002-10-ways-to-cut-your-medical-bills.html

“10 Ways to Save on Health Care Costs” www.bankrate.com/finance/insurance/10-ways-to-save-on-health-care-costs-1.aspx

By Tom Gray
Source: Jack Fincham, PhD, Rap., Professor of Pharmacy Practice, School of Pharmacy, University of Missouri–Kansas City; National Foundation for Credit Counseling; Medline Plus

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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