Money Saving Tip! - A Guide to Medical Expenses

Thanks to Kristin @ Making Cents Out of Life for this great informative guest post as a "How To" when it comes to medical expenses. We all have them at some point in our lives and this post is sure to help you out!

Medical expenses are a part of every day life for a lot of people. Unfortunately, a lot of people are either uninsured or underinsured. Being underinsured just means that you don't have enough coverage for doctor's visits, hospital stays, or prescription medications. It can be almost as financially and physically damaging as being uninsured, because what good is a doctor's visit when you can't afford your routine medications? There are ways that you can save money on medical expenses, or even qualify for free services and medication. You simply have to know where to look and what to ask of your health care professionals. I've had a disability since birth, and have had a lot of experience with various health care providers. I've learned a few things along the way that I'd like to share with you in hopes that some of the tips will make your journey a little easier. There's no need to choose between medical care and groceries or utilities. I'll show you.

First of all, know that you are the person responsible for your health. It's up to us to listen to our bodies and take action when something isn't right. A $40 doctor's office co-pay now could save you $2000 later. When you talk to your doctor, be honest with him or her about your situation. A doctor's job is simply to treat and/or heal you, not be a steward of your money. I'm not trying to be harsh, trust me I've been there. If you're underinsured or uninsured, ask your doctor if he or she can start at the beginning with less expensive treatments or tests. Chances are, hundreds of dollars of lab work aren't necessary all at once. One simple blood test could tell him all he needs to know, and save you a lot of money. Doctors are responsive to your requests, especially when you explain your financial situation. If a doctor requests that you come every week for a check up due to illness, and you can't afford it, tell him. Maybe every two weeks or every month will be sufficient. An open line of communication between yourself and your doctor is crucial, both for your physical and your financial health.

Prescriptions can often be another budget breaker that are out of reach for a lot of people. They don't have to be, because there are so many resources to help with those costs. For prescription medications that you only need for a short time, an antibiotic for instance, ask for samples. My doctor has always sent me home with samples for new medications, especially those I don't need to take long term. If the doctor doesn't have samples, ask for a generic drug if one is available. Many big box retailers, such as Target and Walmart, have prescription drug programs where a generic prescription costs only $4 for a 30-day supply. You can find a copy of those Target's list at Target.com, and Walmart's list at Walmart.com. For routine medications, such as something used to treat an ongoing condition, most insurance companies do require that you do what's called step therapy. This basically means that you must start with a lower cost, generic (most of the time) medication and work your way up to the expensive formulary brands. A lot of those will also be found on those four dollar lists. If the medication isn't on that list, and is more than you can afford, there are programs available to help you with these costs. They will depend on your income, insurance (if you have any), household size, and condition. A great way to find out about these programs is to visit the Partnership for Prescription Assistance website. This resource will also inform you of many other programs to help you with medical care costs.

If everything else fails, and you have a prescription you just need filled immediately, you can still get a little relief by utilizing one of the many prescription discount cards available. These work, and although they aren't insurance they knock off anywhere from 10-40% of the cost of your medication. Perhaps the most widely known and available card is the Together Rx card. The world's largest pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb, are sponsoring this program for those who don't qualify for state and federal insurance (Medicaid and Medicare) and can't afford their own private insurance. AstraZeneca has a program called RxAssist, also created to help match patients with programs to help cover the costs of their medication. To find out if the discount card you want to use is accepted at your local pharmacy, call them first. You may have to go to a different pharmacy for the discount, and please remember if you do to tell the pharmacist about any other medication you may be taking to avoid reactions.

If you don't have insurance, ask the doctor/hospital/clinic to give you the same rate they'd give someone with insurance. People without insurance who are forced to be in the hospital or go to the emergency room often pay triple what an insured person pays. For instance, about a week after I began a new job I was hospitalized. Great timing, right? My insurance began immediately, but I didn't yet have the card or any information. It often took about a month for everything to go into effect, and until then I was responsible for paying out of pocket and filing for reimbursement. The hospital I went to was demanding $1500 immediately, so I had to call the insurance company and get everything squared away to keep from writing that big check. They told me that without insurance, I was facing a bill over $8000. That was only for the emergency room visit and the first night I'd spent there. When I got the bill, after insurance and all, my out of pocket costs were about $400. If you negotiate with the hospital, chances are they will accept a lower payment and/or payment arrangements. They want their money, and a big chunk of it is better than nothing.

Last but not least, take advantage of free health screenings whenever you can. Often, Walgreens and other stores will offer screenings and exams to provide you with free preventative care. Even if you're completely healthy, take advantage of these free services. You could get your blood glucose, blood pressure, bone density, and cholesterol checked for free. There are a lot more things that are often checked, but those are the things that Walgreens and AARP are partnering in the Wellness Tour to check. Keep an eye out in your area and in your local newspaper for events in your area. The value of these tests is really priceless, because you get peace of mind.

For more prescription freebies, check out my recent post HERE.


Melissa said...

Those are all good tips. I always, always ask my doctor for the cheapest generic medicine that will be effective.

The Messy Mom said...

I am underinsured. Ugh. Believe it or not sometimes it is cheaper to pay the out of pocket rate (you mention this in your blog) that is given to the uninsured than it is to pay the co pay as insured patient. For example before I was insured I paid $50 for a doctor's visit and after we got insurance I had an $80 copay because they charge so much more if you have insurance. In normal cases it doesn't affect the patient because good or decent insurance will cover most of it, but not if you have crappy insurance. I at least count on the fact that if there is a major emergency it will pay off.

The Prudent Homemaker said...

We dn't have insurance. One of the things that has helped us the most is to ask for the uninsured discount. Sometimes it isn't mcuh--only 10% off if you pay it all off within a month. This doesn't always work for us, of course, as hospital bills can be large. Doctors have sometimes given us a discounted rate if we have asked for it. The imporant thing is to ask.

If you're in the hospital, and you might be able to go home, check out earlier rather than later. Each room you are in is an extra charge, and if you're there more than 24 hours, the rate goes up tremendously.

Also, if you don't have insurance, and you want to have your children immunized, the local health department will do it for much less (about $10 a shot here, compared to $80 per visit at the doctor's office plue $40 per shot).

Getting insurance for a large family when you are self-employed is difficult. So far, even with three hospital visits in the last three years, it has been less money to pay for the bills than it would have cost us to have paid for the insurance (plus we would have had co-pays on top of that).

I would love to have major catastrophe insurance, but at the rate of $20,000 a year (and not one will cover childbirth expenses) with a $10,000 deductible, it's just not feasible.

KristinBrianne said...

Thanks for allowing me to do this post!

When my grandmother was alive, I wasn't aware of all of these programs to help her with her medical costs, and she needed it badly. I'm considering starting a blog dedicated to helping people with medical care costs. The county health departments are so flooded that it's very difficult for people in our area to obtain any kind of help, so they just go without and it's heartbreaking. Even those with Medicare coverage are stuck paying 20% of their bill unless they can afford a secondary insurance, and that 20% can be thousands of dollars.


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