Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Saving Money on Health Care

An apple a day keeps the doctor away? Oh, if it were only so simple...

Okay, so this is not going to be one of those blog posts about the current health care debate in our nation's capital (I'm so not going there), but it is about taking stock in how you currently take care of yourself and if it's benefitting your health and your overall bottom line. As I sat in my open enrollment meeting at work today, I got to thinking about how I could do an even better job of using my money most effectively to take care of myself. I consider myself very lucky to have health insurance, and most of my advice and thoughts come from a place of having health insurance. But I hope this gets everyone thinking about how they can put their health first without it costing them an arm and a leg.

#1 - Re-evaluate your pharmacy. This may not be for everyone depending on access to pharmacies, but I just always assumed that prescriptions were about the same at all pharmacies. They aren't! My health insurance company has their own pharmacies and if you refill there (in person or online), you get your prescriptions for 30% less. If you make frequent trips to the pharmacy, that could be a huge savings. Plus, if you order online, they'll ship to you for free!

#2 - Sign up for a medical flexible spending account. I am definitely a big believer in these pre-tax accounts. Basically, you take money directly from your paycheck (so you don't pay taxes on it) and spend it on medically related items. Well, what if you're lucky enough to not spend much on medicine? You can use it on co-pays, First Aid kits, and even sunscreen (of a certain SPF, of course). Apparently, baby oil does not count as a medically related item. I even found out certain vitamins or supplements can count if they can cure an ailment (example, if you're anemic and need to take iron supplements, etc). Of course, you'd have to check the specific company's definition (it varies from carrier to carrier, I'm sure), but overall, it's been a huge savings for me and it's nice to know that I've put money away for planned medical expenses. It has even helped offset the cost of unplanned medical expenses. The only bummer is it's a use-it-or-lose-it account: whatever you haven't spent at the end of your plan year goes away. Trust me - I have yet to have a year when I've had trouble finding a way to spend it.

#3 - Utilize urgent care facilites. Again, this may not work for everyone, but if there are urgent care facilities in your area, visiting them is almost always MUCH cheaper than the emergency room. I really don't think about urgent care at all - if I'm in a health emergency, I always think emergency room. But what happens? You usually wait for hours and you pay through the roof when you get your bill. An urgent care facility is well equipped to handle emergencies and in most cases, will get you out quicker. The extra bonus? You don't pay as much! Put the closest urgent care facility address and phone number on your refrigerator - hopefully, you won't have an emergency, but it will help to know where you can get reliable, quick and cost-effective care.

#4 - Get to know your benefit package REALLY well. I wear contacts and glasses, so I just assume that I need to have vision coverage, too. Well, not really. My health insurance covers a yearly vision exam. I have the flex account to cover expenses of my contacts. So I only need my vision insurance to cover the cost of frames that I get every couple of years. This year, I'm planning to forgo the vision insurance since I have contacts and frames to last at least another year, saving me $9/month. Hey, it's not a ton, but why pay for something twice? Talk to your plan administrator to see if you're duplicating some expense or ask for help to strategize. They want to keep costs down, too.

I wish everyone good health, and I hope some of these tips come in handy for you! Anyone else have ideas on how to minimize health care costs?

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