Healthcare can be expensive and confusing. The fact that the world of healthcare is ever changing makes healthcare costs and insurance even harder to understand. However, with a little planning and understanding you can save a significant amount of money on your healthcare expenses.
Health Care Tips That Can Save You Money
- Avoid Disease
Disease is expensive and many times avoidable as most diseases are self-inflicted. Common diseases that can oftentimes be controlled by a change of lifestyle are: type II diabetes, obesity related joint disease, hypertension, lung disease from smoking, stress induced illness, elevated cholesterol etc. So, to reduce healthcare costs, take better care of yourself. Here is a simple prescription to do that:
- Exercise more days per week than not.
- Maintain a healthy weight with a BMI of < 25 and percent body fat of < 20%.
- Sugar, and foods that turn into sugar, should be a rare part of your diet. Sugary goodness, you ask? Sadly, sugar is very inflammatory which can cause a host of issues. If you are trying to avoid sugar, read labels as many foods have added sugar.
- Eat more healthy fat (fatty fish, avocado, raw nuts, flax seed, olive oil).
- Eat more greens. Fresh vegetables and greens should be consumed at every meal. Fruit is good too, but don’t overdo it as many fruits are high in sugar (fructose).
- Take a high-quality fish-oil supplement daily.
- Learn to meditate to reduce stress. I use an iPhone app called “Insight Timer”. Give it a try. It is a simple yet effective tool to reduce stress.
- Get an Annual Exam
Yes, annual exams can save you money if you plan ahead. Benchmarking your health can prevent disease. Write down questions in advance that you have for your doctor. Consider emailing these questions to your doctor (or nurse) a week prior to your visit. Ask for the following benchmarks and keep a record of them:
- blood pressure
- fasting blood sugar and HbA1C
- advanced lipid profile
- inflammatory markers such as hsCRP, Lp-PLA2, and AA/EPA ratio (part of a fatty acid profile).
I believe the AA/EPA ratio is one of the most important blood tests available. It is a measure of foundational or cellular inflammation. The AA/EPA ratio should be < 3. If your doctor does not know what a fatty acid profile or an AA/EPA ratio is, consider finding one that does. A fatty acid profile, including an AA/EPA ratio, can be ordered through several labs including Boston Heart Lab, Cleveland Heart Lab and True Health Diagnostics.
- Avoid Prescription Drugs
If your doctor suggests a prescription to treat a medical issue, think twice. You should try to avoid all prescription medication unless absolutely necessary. Most prescription medication can be avoided by taking better care of yourself and/or using proper supplements. If your doctor recommends a prescription ask her/him for a supplement alternative and/or a time frame to correct that which the prescription is intended to treat. Then, recheck in a few months to see if you have been successful.
- Choose Your Health Insurance Carefully
Remember, health insurance should be used to protect you against an unexpected catastrophic illness or injury that would cause financial ruin. Health insurance should not be used as pre-paid healthcare for every possible office visit or health expense. Think of health insurance as you do car insurance. That is, you do not expect your auto insurance to pay for oil changes, tires, windshield wiper blades or gasoline. Often, the least expensive policy with the highest deductible will save you money if you take #1 and #2 above seriously. If you are purchasing an individual policy (not through an employer) consider a medical sharing company such as “Medishare” it saves the average person approximately $500.00 per month.
- Utilize a Health Savings Account
A health savings account allows you to put aside pre-tax dollars to purchase qualified health related items and services. HSA dollars are exempt from income tax so with a little planning you can save big. Also worth noting, some employer based health insurance plans will match HSA dollars. Here are just a few items that qualify under the HSA rules:
- hearing aids
- prescription eye glasses
- weight loss programs
- medications that are prescribed by your doctor
- dental care
- Phone/email Medicine and Samples
Talk to your doctor about rendering care over the phone, many will gladly consult with you via phone, Skype or email. Some doctors will have a small fee for doing so but compared to an office visit it can save you both time and money.
Also, most doctors get free samples of both prescription and over-the counter medications. If you don’t ask you will not get the freebies. It is okay to politely ask for a 1-2 week supply of medication. Make your doctor’s nurse or medical assistant your best friend. They are often the ones with the keys to the sample closet. I know in my office that we often have to throw away samples that have expired.
Some nurses and medical assistants have their own email accounts which may be a quicker way to get a question answered, a prescription refilled, or a request for samples addressed. Your email or phone call to the doctor or nurse should be brief and to the point. Ask your question first, then give needed background. For example, “Subject line: Tylenol Samples for headache/back pain. Body of email: Dear Dr. Smith or Nurse, may I please stop by to pick up a 1-2 week supply of Tylenol. I use this for occasional headaches and back pain. Thank you, Patient.”
Yes, bartering is a thing. If you own a business that provides a service or product consider offering this in exchange for medical care. I once had a patient that traded car washes for medical care - a clean win-win. I had another patient that owned a restaurant. We traded medical care for a gift certificate to his restaurant. However, there are some IRS rules about bartering so be sure to check with your accountant or CPA.
- Ask For a Discount
Yes, that is also a thing. If you are paying out of pocket for medical care because you have a large deductible, ask for a discount. Doing this directly with the doctor, however, may make you or your doctor a bit uncomfortable as many doctors are unaware of the actual charges billed to insurance for the medical care they render. Therefore, you should consider speaking to the office manager to arrange such a discount. If you offer cash for an office visit you may be surprised how much of a discount you can get. Remember, too, that this out of pocket expense may be covered by an HSA account - further saving you money. By the way, a discount can also be requested for other medical items such as laboratory testing and x-rays as well.
If you follow only a few, of these tips for cutting healthcare costs, you will see the savings. Most importantly, take charge of your own health. Be proactive and don’t rely on others to make decisions on your behalf. Keep a notebook with these and other cost savings ideas and keep looking at OTA healthcare posts for updates.
About the Author
Dr. Jeff Barke
Dr. Barke is a family physician in private practice in Newport Beach, CA. He attended undergraduate college at U.S.C. and Medical School at U.C. Irvine completing his Family Medicine Residency at U.C. Irvine Medical Center. He is an elected School Board Member for the Los Alamitos Unified School District currently serving his third term. Dr. Barke also serves as a tactical physician for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department SWAT team as a reserve deputy.