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Eight ways to cut your health care costs

The cost of health care continues to rise. That is why it helps to learn how to take steps to limit your out-of-pocket health care costs.

Learn how to save money and still receive the care you need. Start by looking at your plan information so you know what services are available. Try the tips below to help you get the most from your benefits and save money on your care.

1. Save Money on Medicines

There are a few ways to cut costs on your medicines.

  • Ask your health care provider if you can switch to generic medicines. They have the same active ingredient, but cost less than brand-name drugs.
  • Ask your provider if there is a less expensive medicine that treats the same condition.
  • See if you can order your medicine through the mail.
  • Take all of your medicines as directed. Not taking your medicine or not taking enough medicine may lead to further health problems.

2. Use Your Benefits

  • Get routine health screenings. These tests can catch health problems early, when they may be more easily treated. And you often do not have to pay a copay for health screenings, vaccines, and annual well visits.
  • Get prenatal care if you are pregnant. This is the best way to ensure you and your baby will be healthy.
  • Some health plans offer health advocates or case managers. A health advocate can help you get the most of your benefits. A case manager can help you to manage complex health problems such as diabetes or asthma.
  • Use free and discounted services. Many health plans offer discounts on things like gym memberships or eyewear.

3. Plan Ahead for Urgent and Emergency Care

When an illness or injury occurs, you need to decide how serious it is and how soon to get medical care. This will help you choose whether to call your provider, go to an urgent care clinic, or get emergency care.

You can decide where to get care by thinking about how quickly you need care.

  • If a person or unborn baby could die or have permanent harm, it is an emergency. Examples include chest pain, trouble breathing, or severe pain or bleeding.
  • If you need care that cannot wait until the next day to see your provider, you need urgent care. Examples of urgent care include strep throat, bladder infection, or a dog bite.

You will save both time and money if you use an urgent care center or see your provider rather than going to the emergency department. Plan ahead by knowing which urgent care center is near you. Also, learn how to recognize an emergency in adults and in a child.

4. Ask About Outpatient Facilities

If you need a procedure or surgery, ask your provider if you can have it done at an outpatient clinic. Often, getting care at a clinic is cheaper than having the same procedure in a hospital.

5. Choose In-Network Health Care Providers

Depending on your health coverage, you may have the choice to see providers who are in-network or out-of-network. You pay less to see providers who are in-network, because they have a contract with your health plan. This means they charge lower rates.

6. Take Care of Your Health

A simple way to save money on health care is to stay healthy. Of course, that is sometimes easier said than done. But staying at a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, and not smoking lowers your risk for health problems. Staying healthy helps you avoid costly tests and treatments for ongoing conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.

7. Choose a Health Plan that is Right for You.

When choosing a plan, think about the health needs of you and your family. If you pick a plan with higher premiums, more of your health costs will be covered. This may be a good idea if you have a health problem, such as diabetes, and need regular care. If you rarely need medical care, then you may want to choose a plan with a higher deductible. You will pay lower monthly premiums and likely save money overall. Also compare prescription drug coverage.

8. Use a Health Care Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA)

Many employers offer an HSA or FSA. These are savings accounts that allow you to set aside pre-tax money for health care expenses. This can help you save several hundred dollars per year. HSAs are owned by you, earn interest, and can be transferred to a new employer. FSAs are owned by your employer, do not earn interest, and must be used within the calendar year.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Prevention Checklist. Updated December 23, 2015. www.cdc.gov/prevention/index.html. Accessed October 18, 2016.

U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Preventive Health Services. www.healthcare.gov/coverage/preventive-care-benefits/. Accessed October 18, 2016.

U.S. Preventive Services Taskforce. Browse Information for Consumers. www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Tools/ConsumerInfo/Index/information-for-consumers. Accessed October 18, 2016.

Review Date 9/3/2016

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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