January 24, 2013
Debates about the federal health care overhaul aside, one truth has emerged from the recent national discussion about the health care and insurance industries. In the end, we are all responsible for our own individual health.
Now, that sounds obvious, but it’s not necessarily how we’ve lived for half-a-century, in a world where many peoples’ employers covered whatever malady might strike them. Without the financial stress of paying ‘a la carte’ for anything from stitches to a coronary stent, there was less pressure on the individual to take preventative action to protect their health. When an issue arose, you went to the doctor, and that was that.
With far fewer employers offering comprehensive health care, and those that are moving to high deductible plans that put the burden of paying for small accidents and illnesses back on the individual, personal health care has become much like other commodities, where shoppers find the best price and only purchase what they need.
Whether you’re self-employed or a full time employee living with a high deductible plan as your sole coverage, remember these guidelines to help you navigate the ever-changing system:
Get in Shape
If wanting to look and feel your best never motivated you to eat the right foods and exercise, perhaps saving big money at the doctor will. Obesity accounts for more health maladies than any other condition, from type II diabetes to heart problems. By keeping your weight in check, you’ll need fewer trips to the doctor. When you’re feeling great, your wallet will thank you.
Read the Fine Print of Your Insurance Plan
Every insurance plan is different, and finding out that a test or doctor’s visit isn’t covered after you’ve already gone can be an unexpected roadblock in our budget. Read your plan, understand the terminology, and ask questions about cumulative costs of any tests and procedures before agreeing to them. Of course, don’t forgo necessary care, but do seek out the best options and decide ahead of time, if possible, if you plan to reach your deductible or not.
Ask Questions About Cost
It’s somewhat engrained in our culture to follow ‘doctor’s orders.’ But if the doctor suggests a further test or procedure, don’t hesitate to ask about the costs. Oftentimes there may be an alternative that better fits your budget. [or the constraints of your insurance]
Use In-Network Doctors
Insurance providers typically have a network of ‘preferred’ providers, and finding a doctor within this list can mean significant savings. Also remember that you never have to stick with the first doctor you find — search around until you find a provider you relate to and trust. And if you’re starting from scratch, your provider’s network list is a good place to begin your search.
Keep Track of Your Health Expenditures
Although tax write-off eligibility for health care expenses may be slightly altered in 2013 at the national level, you’re still likely entitled to a tax break if you have significant health-related costs in your budget. Save every receipt and keep track of any expense that’s health related to report on your tax forms.
Start a Health Savings Account
People with a high-deductible health insurance plan are eligible to begin an HSA, which lets account holders deposit pre-tax dollars into a fund specifically for their own health care. This money can be used for doctor’s visits and procedures and count against your deductible, but can be written off of income taxes. Best of all, an HSA means you’ll already have money set aside when an emergency arises.
Research What Ails You
In the past, doctors have advised patients not to trust what they read online. Fortunately, reputable providers like the Mayo Clinic now offer comprehensive, accurate information about health issues and diseases on the internet. Understanding your symptoms and diagnoses is integral to making smart financial decisions about your own health care.
Choose Generic Medications
Doctors may prescribe a name brand medication . Most doctors, however, will be responsive to your inquiries about less expensive, generic alternatives. Of course, ensure that the drug you are prescribed is safe and effective, but oftentimes a generic medication may be exactly the same as the well-known name brand manufacturer.
When it comes to paying for care, individuals are more responsible than ever for their own health. Remember, the buck ultimately stops with you.
About the Author
As the CEO of Vertical Health, patient care advocate http://www.billpaquin.com Bill Paquin works to convey accurate health information to consumers. He operates web sites including http://www.diabeticlifestyle.com, http://www.endocrineweb.com and other sites focused on improving patient care associated with endocrine disorders. Bill is a husband and father, and writes about improving patient care in our healthcare system.