In 2011, the U.S. spent $2.7 trillion on health expenditures, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The amount the U.S. paid in health care per capita went up more than 77 percent between 2000 and 2011.
Chances are you or your family has felt the pinch by way of higher insurance premiums, co-pays and rising prescription costs.
So what can you do to rescue your wallet? We caught up with several local health care professionals to get their tips for saving money on your medical needs.
At the doctor’s office
Who we talked to: Julie Moul, practice administrator at Hanover Family Practice in Hanover
- Moul could not stress enough the importance of knowing your benefits. “A lot of patients have no clue about what their insurance is going to pay or not pay. They get blindsided by a bill and they ignore it,” she said. Talk to your carrier, HR administrator, and/or doctor’s office to get a better understanding about your coverage.
- To avoid becoming overwhelmed by bills, pay at the time of service rather than allowing bills to accumulate — especially for high-frequency treatments like physical therapy.
If you think you’ll have trouble paying a bill, call your doctor’s office to work out a payment plan. Some offices offer automatic deductions so you don’t have to remember to pay each month, risking finance charges for being late or missing a payment.
- Many patients assume that when their doctor makes a referral, that the doctor knows which specialists are in network or out of network for the patient, Moul said. But this isn’t the case. It’s the patient’s responsibility to make sure whatever specialist they’re seeing is covered under their plan.
At the pharmacy
Who we talked to: Scott Miller, president of Minnich’s Pharmacy in Spring Garden Township
- For name-brand medications, try to get a discount card from the manufacturer or ask if your pharmacy has the manufacturer’s discount card at the store. Your pharmacy might also have a store discount card to use for generic medications, if you don’t have prescription insurance or if you were prescribed a medication that’s not covered by your insurance.
- Call different pharmacies to compare prices. While many chains don’t offer price matching, independent pharmacies might.
- While saving money is good, Miller cautioned about the dangers of penny-pinching. Be wary of online pharmacies — especially those that say you don’t need a prescription for medication or that tell you to visit one of their recommended doctors. They could give you improper medication and defraud you out of money. Try to verify that the pharmacy has the proper license from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
At the hospital
Who we talked to: Josette Myers, vice president of marketing and community relations for Memorial Hospital
- Ask the hospital if it offers a prompt-pay discount. Many will offer a discount if the estimated out-of-pocket expense is paid within a certain period of time.
- Consider the level of care you might need before heading to the emergency room. The co-pay in a physician’s office is generally less expensive than an emergency department co-pay. If there isn’t an emergency, schedule an appointment with your family physician; if you don’t have a family physician, the hospital’s referral line should be able to help find one.
- Make sure you are aware of the labs your insurance is affiliated with so you can go to the facilities that are covered by your insurance.
Who we talked to: Kelly Lieblein, vice president of sales and client management for Highmark Blue Shield
- If there’s a choice of health plans, it might make sense to look at the higher-deductible plan in order to save money on the premium.
- If your employer offers a health savings account or a health reimbursement account, consider taking advantage of it. Employers often use health savings accounts to complement higher-deductible plans and some employers even make contributions to the account. Money in a health savings account can be put aside, tax-free, earns interest and won’t be lost at the end of the year. “That becomes your nest-egg for future health spending,” Lieblein said. Health reimbursement accounts are funded by your employer to help pay for employee medical expenses not covered by insurance.
- Take advantage of any wellness incentives your employer might offer. In an effort to improve employee health (which reduces absenteeism), more employers are giving employees either a flat dollar amount or a reduction in premium contributions for getting the preventative testing recommended for your age and gender.
- Comparison shop. Highmark’s website, highmarkblueshield.com, offers a Care Cost Estimator, where you can enter the type of procedure or care that you need and compare various providers for how much the procedure costs and how much you’d pay out of pocket.