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Friday, November 28, 2008

10 Ways to Save Money on Health Costs During the Recession

By Scott Mowbray

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Whatever the prospects for health-care reform, the sick economy is going to put lots of pressure on Americans. Unemployment will be up, the number of uninsured will rise, companies will surely cut health benefits to employees, and all this stress will be, well, unhealthy.

Although there is some evidence that recessions can actually improve certain health trends (e.g., people may indulge in unhealthy behaviors less often when they have less money), it is surely true that health-related money anxiety will rise.

But there are ways to prevent and lessen health-money woes. Here are 10 to start with, along with links to more detailed explanations of how to make these changes.

1. Make a prevention resolution. If you’re overweight (millions of Americans are prediabetic and don’t know it), get your weight down to reduce your risk of diabetes. It will also help with hypertension and other problems that can cost you big. Prevention isn’t a cure-all, but it’s a good bet if you want to avoid situations that can lead to major health bills.

2. Stick to your meds. If you’re on regular medication—a statin for high cholesterol, or aspirin to prevent a heart attack, for example—take your medicine. Failure to comply (including skipping doses to save money) is a common behavior, but it can reduce drug efficacy. If you lose your insurance coverage, you may be able to find a cheaper version of the drug, and most drug companies have programs to help people who cannot afford their medicines. But don’t stop taking a med without consulting your doctor.

3. Go generic if you can. Always ask about costs when your doctor prescribes a medicine. Request the cheapest effective drug—an older formulation or generic may cost less and do the same good.

4. Find cheap, good sources of medication. There are safe Internet options, and stores like Wal-Mart offer significant savings. There are also money-saving strategies such as buying pills in bulk, splitting larger-dose pills into the prescribed dosage, and more.

5. Eat better, save more. Healthy eating and cheaper eating can dovetail nicely. Reduce portion sizes to healthy levels and move whole grains and vegetables to the “center” of your diet: You’ll save money and be healthier. Simpler, natural healthy foods—dry beans, inexpensive vegetables—are often cheaper than unhealthy processed foods. And less costly cuts of meat can have more flavor when cooked properly. For hundreds of easy, healthy recipes, visit Health.com’s new Recipe Center.

6. Commit to recovery. If you’re recovering from surgery and facing rehab, follow the recovery regimen diligently. Get your physical therapist to maximize your “homework” routine to save on clinic visits. But don’t put off the pain: Incomplete healing can lead to reinjury or permanent disability.

7. Know your rights. If you lose your insurance, study the COBRA rules and 62-day insurance “gap” rules to avoid a costly coverage error, particularly if you have a preexisting condition.

8. Fight claim denials. Experts say that 70% of health-insurance claim appeals are successful, and there are Web resources and people who can help.

9. Get organized. Many people are sloppy about keeping copies of prescriptions, test results, insurance claims, and the like. If you have your documents in order, it will be easier to win a disagreement with an insurance company, and it can lead to more efficient appointments with your doctor.

10. Bargain down costs. Both doctors and hospitals will actually negotiate, and sometimes adjust their bills based on patient needs, ability to pay cash, and other factors. And if you’re facing a hospital stay, there are things you can do before and after to avoid overcharges, including packing your own drugs, keeping a treatment log, and asking for an itemized statement.

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