The recession has hit our country hard. According to a recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, it’s motivated more than half of us to cut back on needed healthcare expenditures.
The desire to rein in spending at a time like this is understandable. But skimping on medical care is a dangerous way to do it. Thankfully, there are some simple — and safe — strategies to save money on health care without sacrificing your health. Here are my top five.
Know your health plan’s fine print.
Health insurance policies are notoriously complicated. Many patients end up paying unexpected fees. Did you know that with some plans, going to an out-of-network physician could increase your copayment by up to 50 percent?
A close inspection of your policy might reveal some simple ways to keep your money in your pocket. Also, be aware of what your plan covers before deciding on a procedure or therapy. If you’re unclear about any aspect of your health plan, it’s worth calling your insurer to make sure there won’t be any surprises when the bill arrives.
Talk to your doctor about switching to generic medicines.
If you’re currently taking a brand name drug, you should speak to your doctor about switching to a generic alternative. Generics are just as effective as their brand name counterparts, but cost considerably less. Some can be purchased for just a couple dollars each month.
And even if your prescription isn’t currently available in generic form, it might soon be. Over the next two years, dozens of blockbuster drugs like Lipitor, Plavix, Zyprexa, and Singulairare are losing their patent protection.
Stock up on medication.
Many insurance plans receive discounts from drug makers for purchasing 90-day treatment courses. These savings are often passed on to consumers. So if you’re currently taking drug each day to manage a chronic condition, talk to your doctor about switching from your 30-day prescription to a 90-day prescription.
Similarly, many big box stores like Wal-Mart sell 90-day supplies of generic medications at a discounted rate.
Take preventive health measures.
Recommit yourself to that New Year’s resolution to lose a few pounds or quit smoking. And head to the doctor to get that physical you’ve been putting off. It may sound like simple advice, but keeping yourself healthy is the most effective way to avoid the need for costly medical procedures.
Take advantage of government assistance.
Of the nearly 47 million uninsured Americans, 12 million are eligible for government health insurance in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, or SCHIP. If you’re currently uninsured, do some research and find out if you qualify for any local, state, or federal aid. Public assistance could drastically cut down on your premiums and co-pays.
Unfortunately, not all strategies for saving on healthcare are as safe and effective as these. Buying discount drugs online from overseas pharmacies could increase your risk of receiving tainted or counterfeit medications. Other quick-fix cost-saving strategies, like forgoing health insurance while between jobs, and ignoring early signs of serious illness, could lead to much higher medical bills down the road.
For those who have been hit hard by the current economic downturn, it’s important to remember that staying healthy on a shoestring budget isn’t impossible. By following this advice, you can emerge from this recession with your health — and your bank account — intact.
(Gary Applebaum, M.D., is a senior fellow at the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest. He is the former Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Erickson Retirement Communities.)