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Best Advice from Consumer Reports to Reduce Your Healthcare Expense

The Washington Post recently highlighted some of Consumer Reports’ best strategies to help you lower your healthcare cost.

Get Medication Savvy

  • If your doctor prescribes a new medication, ask about price before you leave the office. Generic medications make up almost 80% of prescriptions filled in the U.S., and they can cost up to 90% less than the brand-name version, but not all drugs have generic versions on the market. If that is the case, inquire about lower-cost options within the same drug class.
  • Ask about a three-month prescription. This can be significantly cheaper for long-term medications.
  • Shop around. Certain plans, such as Medicare Part D and Advantage, have preferred pharmacies, which may offer certain prescriptions at lower prices. Just make sure to fill all of your prescriptions at one pharmacy.
  • Ask for a price break. Some stores, such as Costco, said that their contracts with Medicare Part D plan prohibit a pharmacist from offering a better price unless the customer asks first.
  • Consider an online pharmacy. You can save by using a low-cost online pharmacy but only order from a VIPPS-accredited pharmacy.
  • Do a med check. At least once a year, go over your medications with your doctor. Make sure you are on both the best and most affordable options for you.

Save at the doctor’s office, lab, and hospital

  • Check prices beforehand. Many health insurers have online tools to help consumers determine their out-of-pocket costs with in-network providers. Alternatively, you can search on Clear Health Costs or Healthcare Bluebook to find your local prices.
  • Ask for a lower price for a procedure. Use the local pricing information to negotiate directly with your doctor or hospital.
  • Know when to pay out-of-pocket. If you have a high deductible, you may benefit by paying the non-insurance price. Paying for something out of pocket will help you reach that deductible.

Be Wise About Billing

  • Be mindful of out-of-network surprises. Even if you are at an in-network hospital, your insurer may not cover everyone working there. Tell the hospital and the surgeon that you want to use in-network providers only. Ask for the names of all physicians and confirm with your insurance company that they are in-network.
  • Choose an ER ahead of time. Some emergency rooms are staffed by physicians who may not be in your network even if the hospital itself is. Call the billing department at your chosen hospital and ask if they use out-of-network ER doctors. If you do end up in that ER, request only to be seen by in-network providers.
  • Fight unfair bills. If you do get an out-of-network bill, try to negotiate with the doctor that billed you and then ask your insurer to cover the charge. If neither is willing to help you, file an appeal with your insurance company. Get a letter from your primary care doctor or specialist stating that the ER treatment was medically necessary. The Patient Advocate Foundation provides patients with arbitration, mediation, and negotiation to settle issues with access to care, medical debt, and job retention related to their illness at no charge.
  • Read medical bills carefully. A 2014 review by NerdWallet found that almost half of Medicare claims audited by the government contained errors. Always get an itemized bill from your doctor or hospital. Read through and save all bill-related paperwork. Common mistakes are incorrect codes and spelling errors. If something is amiss, let your insurer or the hospital know.

Embrace a healthy lifestyle

  • Good health can help you spend less on health care. People who do about 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days save on average $2,500 per year on health care costs.
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