6 Ways You Can Save Money on Health Costs

Health expenses can really add up quickly, even with good insurance. Between sick visits, well visits, co-pays, emergencies, and dental and vision care, there are many items to pay for. Medical fees for children add an even greater cost, and often parents can feel overwhelmed by all the mounting fees.

Choosing a good insurance plan certainly helps, but unexpected medical costs, or even several small medical fees put together, can really add up. In 2013, workers paid an average of $4,565 toward the cost of their health coverage alone, and since 2003, premiums have increased 80 percent. In addition, depending on the individual plan (or lack thereof), individuals spend hundred, or even thousands of dollars each year on dental and vision costs. Luckily, there are many ways to save money on office visits and health costs, from taking care of yourself to staying in network and even taking advantage of freebies. Read on for six ways to save on health costs.

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1. Take care of your health

Most people don’t want to hear this tip, but it is completely true. If you take care of your health, you will save money. If you exercise regularly, eat healthy, and brush your teeth and floss carefully, you will most likely spend less on your healthcare. Taking care of your health includes exercise and eating healthy, but many people are surprised to learn that you can actually save money by going to your regular annual medical, dental, and — if necessary — vision appointments. If your doctor is able to catch any real issues early, you will probably save money in the long run. Taking care of your teeth now will save you money later, because you will hopefully avoid painful and expensive procedures down the road.

2. Shop around

You can shop around for anything from physicians to dentists to even frames for your glasses. When it comes to choosing a specific doctor, if you have health insurance, you should try to pick a physician who is in network. However, even within network, different doctors and hospitals will charge different amounts, so do your research.

You can also shop around for prescription drugs. Find out if your insurance company has a deal with any particular drugstores; some insurance companies have a preferred drugstore and offer a discount for using it regularly. Also, many drugstores now offer certain medicines for free — Meijer offers several free antibiotics and prenatal vitamins. You can also shop around for your glasses. There are several companies that now offer very cheap glasses, which are great for a second pair or even as a main pair if you don’t need the top brands. Zenni Optical is one example.

3. Take the freebies

Most people already do this, but if you don’t already, take as many freebies as you can when you have an office appointment. Most dental offices will give you a free toothbrush and some floss after your cleaning, but go ahead and ask what else they can offer you. When you’re at the doctor’s office, request a sample of any medications they want to prescribe you; if it is safe and they have them on hand, they often will provide several samples for free.

If you have a small infection that will go away quickly, you may even be able to get away with using the samples and never picking up your prescription at all. Even some vision places have sample contact lenses with specific prescriptions, or sample contact solution. The more samples you pick up, the more you save. Plus, many samples come with coupons, which will save you more money if you do need to order anything.

4. Ask for a generic brand

Not all doctors will automatically prescribe a generic brand, but usually there is little or no difference between the ingredients in a name brand medicine and a generic one. Of course you want to make sure you get what you need to feel better, but you should always ask if a generic brand is a possibility. According to an independently conducted analysis released by the Generic Pharmaceutical Association (GPhA), the U.S. healthcare system and consumers save $1 billion every other day by using generic drugs.

In addition, several types of medicines — for example, antidepressants — come in several different types and brands, and there can be a big cost difference between separate brands that serve exactly the same purpose. However, even a slight ingredient change can make a difference for an individual person, so your doctor might have a good reason for choosing one medicine over another. Nevertheless, it is worth asking about a less expensive option.

5. Make sure everything is necessary

Like most professions, many doctors are trustworthy, honest people, but a few really are out to get your money. If a doctor prescribes a medicine or orders a procedure that you don’t agree with, it may be worth getting a second opinion. If you feel uncomfortable or unsure about what your doctor is saying, you might even save money if you find someone who can fix the problem in a different way. If you have a life-threatening condition, you will want to handle it immediately. However, what one dentist deems an imminent danger, another dentist might suggest waiting until the next year so you can set aside money in a flexible spending account.

In addition, although some choices might make you more comfortable (for example, anesthesiology), you have to decide if you really want to pay for that comfort or not. Lastly, if you really need to have lab tests, make sure that each one is vital, and if so, ask if there are other labs that your doctor’s office is willing to work with so that you can compare prices.

6. Rethink your plan

Many people see the deductible amount on a high-deductible plan and automatically rule it out, but high-deductible plans can actually save you money. If you are mostly healthy and your family is, too, a high-deductible plan can be a great way to save money.

Find out exactly what your plan options cover — many high-deductible plans pay for annual and well visits, and some also offer a certain amount of money each year to cover medical expenses before you even reach your deductible. You may find that you will actually save money by choosing a high-deductible plan; some expensive monthly plans with lower deductibles actually become more expensive when you add in the co-pays and monthly charges.

If you have perfect vision and no one in your family has vision problems, you really shouldn’t be paying for vision insurance. But even if you do sometimes need glasses or contacts, you should do the math to determine whether insurance is worth it. The same is true for dental insurance: Depending on your individual plan, your dental insurance might not even cover large costs like braces or root canals.

There are many other ways to save money on health costs. Some offices will offer a discount if you pay for an expensive procedure in cash. You’re probably better off setting up a payment plan rather than using a credit card if you don’t have the money to pay it off, because that might result in interest payments. But most importantly, take care of your health, your eyes, and your teeth — you will see the difference in your bank account regularly.

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