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How can I cut my medical expenses?

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With health-care costs on the rise, consumers are regularly looking for ways to lower medical expenses. A good place to begin is by practicing prevention. One of the most effective ways to lower medical expenses over time is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Take advantage of wellness programs. Maintain a healthy weight. Exercise regularly. Kick unhealthy habits and have regular checkups. Good nutrition can cut down on illness and tooth decay. Learn symptoms of common diseases. Knowing this will help you know when seeing a doctor is advisable. Consider these additional tips for cutting medical costs.

Contribute to a flexible spending account. Your employer may offer a flexible spending plan that allows you to put pre-tax dollars in an account. You are then reimbursed for your out-of-pocket medical expenses, such as prescription drugs, dental care and co-payments. Because flexible spending contributions are taken out of your pay before federal and state taxes are calculated, you are able to use pre-tax dollars to pay medical bills. Cut the cost of prescription drugs. Prescription costs can eat up a large portion of your budget if you take prescription medication regularly. Ask your pharmacist or doctor to recommend a less-expensive generic drug whenever possible. Also, try ordering your prescriptions through the mail using a traditional or online pharmacy. If you belong to a prescription drug plan through your health insurance, you may be able to get a three-month supply of your prescription drug through the mail for the same price as a one-month supply. Take advantage of free health screenings. If your health insurance doesn’t provide adequate coverage in some areas or if you don’t have health insurance coverage at all, you may want to check into free health screenings. Local clinics and hospitals often provide a variety of screenings such as blood pressure, cholesterol and mammograms. See if you qualify for medical assistance. Shop around for health insurance. If you don’t have employer-sponsored health insurance, shop around to find adequate coverage at an affordable price. Because premiums vary widely, you’ll probably save money if you get quotes from several companies. Evaluate each plan’s coverage and features, taking into account such things as exclusions, limitations and the freedom to choose health care providers. Also, find out how much you’ll end up paying out of pocket in the form of co-payments, co-insurance and deductibles. Relatively small amounts of money can add up quickly if you make frequent visits to your doctor. Check your medical bills. Medical bills are often confusing to read. However, taking a few minutes to go over the charges may save you money in the long run. Check to make sure the bill accurately reflects the procedures performed and takes into account applicable insurance coverage. Errors such as computer codes are common, and you may be billed for health care you never received. Contact the appropriate billing office if you think you’ve found a mistake. If you’ve received an explanation of benefits from your insurance company that you believe is wrong, ask the company to review your claim. Join your spouse’s health plan. Many married couples maintain separate health insurance coverage, even though it may not be cost effective to do so. Examine both plans to see if it makes sense for either of you to join the other’s plan. Keep track of your medical expenses. At tax time, you may be able to deduct certain medical expenses if you itemize your return and your total medical expenses exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. Allowable medical expenses include everything from health care services to medical aides such as glasses and hearing aids. Keep track of these expenses if there’s a chance you can deduct them on your income tax return. Negotiate a discount with your health care provider. While it may not always work, it doesn’t hurt to ask your doctor, hospital or pharmacy if they offer discounts. Research before you negotiate to find out what other local health care providers charge. You can also ask your health care providers if they offer discounts if you pay in cash up front. Increase deductibles on your health insurance if you have adequate savings. This will lessen the cost of your premiums. Get to know your health insurance. Your health insurance may cover more than you think. Insurance companies often provide benefits designed to help you stay safe and healthy. For example, you may receive discounts on vitamins, alternative medicines, health club memberships or bike helmets. You may also be surprised at the range of coverage your health plan offers. Read your plan membership materials to find out what products and services are covered through your health plan before you pay for them on your own.

Posted on 27 Mar 2006

Lynda Schade

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