Monday, July 9, 2012

13 Ways to Save on Medical Costs (Guest Post)

Without comment on the Affordable Care Act, I'd like to share this guest post about saving on medical expenses. I don't recommend all of these ideas, but I definitely agree with #4--whether you're a hospital patient or not.  Doctors may not know which tests others have ordered, and you can sometimes save by speaking up.  I don't think anyone wants to have extra tests, and the added expense just adds insult to injury.

'Doctors Fees' photo (c) 2011, 401K 2012 - license:
In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the Affordable Care Act, allowing for the continued implementation of the act's policies through 2014. The effect of this decision continues to unfold and will be a hot topic during November's elections.

Despite the enormity of this decision, Americans are still struggling to pay for rising medical bills. The typical family spends an average of $19,000 each year on health care. Though that's far from money down the drain, there are ways to cut your costs in the interim of the health care law coming into full effect.  Health care is a good investment in your future, but you'll want to consider the following 13 ways to curb medical costs from biting deeply into your budget.

1. Negotiate Your Bills
While providers are less likely to negotiate if you're covered by insurance, those without have a good chance of bringing their bills down by 10 percent to 20 percent. You can also save by paying cash.

2. Ask For Time
Rather than pay a bill with a credit card, ask the provider to extend the time you have to pay. They may charge interest, but it's likely to be far lower than that of a credit card. Make sure you ask BEFORE receiving the service, however. You'll likely have to sign a form saying you'll pay either up front (if without insurance) or within a prescribed period of time.

3. Scrutinize Your Medical Bill
Experts estimate eight out of 10 medical bills may have some sort of error, so it pays to ask for the full bill and check it for inaccuracies. Do the same with the explanation of benefits from your health insurance agency. This particularly applies to long hospital stays.

4. Keep Track
While we're on the subject of long hospital stays, you'll find it worthwhile to keep a running notebook of services and medications provided. Ask if a particular treatment is necessary, since sometimes doctors simply forget to stop a treatment or haven't considered its necessity.

5. Use Coupons for OTC Meds
In the world of medical costs, every little bit counts. Look for online offers and printable coupons to Walgreens and other drugstores from such sites as CouponSherpa. You may find ordering online gives you additional savings, especially if you live a great distance from the nearest store or have trouble getting around.

6. Bring Drugs From Home
You can often bring prescriptions from home when staying at a hospital. While you'll have to turn these meds over to the nurse so they can regulate dosage, this method provides enormous savings over the mark-ups charged by hospitals.

7. Shop Costco
Costco isn't just for bulk toilet paper. The warehouse-store chain is partnering with Aetna to offer five health plans that include major medical and dental benefits. The program is presently only available in Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.

8. Split Pills
Splitting pills has become more common as medication expenses skyrocket. Ask your doctor to give you double the dosage, then split it in half using a handy tool found at most drug stores. Make sure you ask your doctor first, however. Some pills aren't eligible for splitting, such as those providing extended relief or requiring a very exact dosage.

9. Eat Right
Conditions like diabetes and arthritis are exacerbated by obesity and unhealthy eating habits. One of the most effective ways to reduce your medical bill is to get in shape and eat nutritious foods. Getting started is often the hardest part, but you can find a free resources to help support your goals. Check out such free diabetic supplies as meters, cookbooks and meal plans on MrFreeStuff.

10. Research Alternatives to Generics
We've all been educated by now on the savings offered by generic drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter. Some medications aren't available in generic form, however. In these instances, check with your doctor and insurance company to see if there's another drug within the same class that's less expensive. Not all alternative drugs work the same, however, so keep an eye on your results and return to the previous medication if you have problems.

11. Patronize Preferred Pharmacies
Local and mom-and-pop pharmacies can now enroll in programs allowing them to offer deep discounts. Ask your insurance company which drug stores participate in your area. One of the advantages of these smaller pharmacies is they often provide extra perks, like home delivery. If you ask, some also will match or beat the prices offered by the big chains.

12. Use Mail Order Services
You can get a 90-day supply for just one co-pay, through some mail-order companies. The savings is appreciable, compared to paying for your prescription each month. Ask for two prescriptions when you need a new medication: one for your local pharmacy and one for the mail-order company.

13. Keep a Spreadsheet
Record your expenses to see if you qualify for a deduction on your income taxes. While it takes a lot to reach this level, you never know how much you'll end up spending over the course of a year.

Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC's Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.