Al in Billings posed this question:
Q: These days, our family needs to account for every dollar in our budget. With health care costs continuing to rise, what can we do to combat unnecessary expenses?
A: As a consumer, it’s important for you to understand where your health care dollar goes, how you can get the most value for your money and avoid excess costs while getting the care you need. Nicole Duritz, vice president, health education and Outreach for AARP, offers eight tips to stretch your health care dollars to keep you fiscally and physically healthy.
1. Know how your health plan works. Find out what is and what is not covered. Know your deductibles, copayments and other out-of-pocket costs before using medical services or filling a prescription.
2. Stay in-network. Participating providers, also called in-network doctors, charge discounted rates for plan members. When you go out of network, you will likely pay a higher copayment, and you will have to cover the difference in cost for medical service you receive.
3. Save the emergency room for true emergencies. If your doctor is not available when you need medical care, consider an urgent care center before racing to the hospital emergency room. The co-pay is usually lower. Plus an urgent care center may be faster than the ER.
4. Make time for screenings. Screenings, such as blood pressure checks and cholesterol tests, look for diseases before you have symptoms. Talk to your doctor about which health screenings you need. Because of health care reform, many people with insurance will pay less out of pocket for preventive care such as mammograms, immunizations and screenings for cancer or diabetes. You can also visit www.aarp.org/getthefacts for information on the benefits found in the new health care law.
If you have Medicare, there are preventive benefits that are available at no cost to you, such as screenings for diabetes, mammograms and colonoscopies. These new preventive services are in addition to the free “Welcome to Medicare” checkup available to every Medicare recipient during his first year in the Medicare program. If you have Medicare Advantage, check with your plan to see if you will have copayments or deductibles for any screenings or tests. For more information, join AARP experts for a free webinar on What the New Health Care Law Means for People with Medicare on April 19. For more information, visit http://bit.ly/AARPWebinar.
5. Get vaccinated. Getting a yearly flu shot, and vaccinated for tetanus and whooping cough, will save you unnecessary doctor visits and additional costs. And if you are 65 or older, get a pneumonia shot. You should also talk with your doctor about the need for other vaccinations, such as for shingles or diphtheria.
6. Be wise about prescription drugs. Search for lower cost alternatives with AARP’s Drug Savings Tool, www.aarp.org/drugsavings. Talk to your doctor about your prescription options, including generics. And did you know that you could save between 10 percent and 15 percent on mail-order prescriptions? Use a mail-order pharmacy when possible to save you money and time. And be sure to keep an updated list of the medications you take. Download and print a personal medication record from www.aarp.org/medicationrecord.
7. Use your Flexible Spending Account (FSA). If your employer offers an FSA where you can save pre-tax dollars for health care, use it. Remember to plan wisely. You forfeit any FSA money you don’t use by the end of the year.
8. Live a healthy lifestyle. Healthy habits like exercising regularly, eating well and not smoking can improve your health and vitality and lower your risk for many diseases.