With medical costs and insurance deductibles ever on the rise and political uncertainty over the future of the healthcare system, now is the time to become your own advocate and take back as much control as you can over your own health. Whether you have health insurance or not, we have tips to help you lower your costs on prescriptions, routine office visits, and major medical bills.
1. Shop around for the best prescription prices.
You can’t assume that you’ll pay the same price for the same drug at every pharmacy in your area. In fact, you can’t even assume that paying for a prescription with insurance will be cheaper than paying full price yourself! In some cases, the copay an insurance company sets for that drug might actually be higher than what the pharmacy itself charges its cash-paying customers. When you bring in a new script to be filled, ask the pharmacy technician what the cash price is for that drug. (You’ll need to balance whether or not it’s worthwhile to use your insurance anyway in order to meet a deductible; that will depend on your specific situation.)
For generic drugs, remember that some supermarkets like Wegmans, Kroger, and Wal-Mart each have their own list of $4 generics.
2. Ask for coupons and samples.
Pharmaceutical sales reps are always in and out of doctors’ offices with coupons and samples of the drugs they represent. Your doctor might very well have a handy sample and/or coupon for the drug he or she has just prescribed you, so it doesn’t hurt to ask. If it’s a new prescription for a medicine you haven’t tried before, it’s quite reasonable to ask about a sample before committing to a full month’s supply. Just remember that there may be restrictions on samples for some drugs, including controlled substances.
If your healthcare practitioner doesn’t have any coupons for your new prescription, the next place to check is the drug manufacturer’s website. Some pharmaceutical companies also offer assistance programs for people who don’t have prescription drug coverage.
3. Take advantage of community wellness programs.
Many communities offer health fairs and other events or programs where you can get wellness services for free or at a relatively low cost. Depending on the resources your community has available, those services may include free screenings for high blood pressure, diabetes, and HIV, nutritional counseling, or even reduced-cost flu shots. These community services are especially helpful if you don’t have any insurance coverage.
4. Consider video consultations.
For minor conditions, you may not even need to leave your house or change out of your pajamas to see a doctor anymore—and what’s more, a video consultation may be cheaper than an office visit. A growing number of insurance companies and employers now offer online consultations with a doctor as a benefit, or you can sign up for a network of online doctors on your own. Many of these programs are accessible to patients with or without insurance. During your online consultation, the doctor may be able to diagnose your condition via video and even write you a prescription, or may advise you to see someone in-person if necessary.
5. Avoid the emergency room if it’s not a true emergency.
If your condition isn’t severe, skip the emergency room trip. Instead, visit an urgent care center. Most urgent care centers can provide many of the same services as an emergency room—like minor stitches, or treatment for skin infections, possible strep throat, or fractured fingers or toes—at an often lower cost. Research nearby clinics and their costs and services while you’re well so you can quickly make the right choice when you’re not feeling so hot.
6. Check over every bill and statement.
Everyone makes mistakes. Unfortunately, when a mistake involves a medical bill, it could potentially cost the patient a lot more money. Request an itemized bill or statement each time you undergo medical treatment, and ask that everything be written in “plain English,” not medical billing codes. Then go over the statement, keeping your insurance plan’s explanation of benefits (if you have insurance) nearby for comparison. Carefully check the statement for errors such as duplicate charges, incorrect quantities of medications or supplies, an extra day for a hospital stay, or tests that a provider may originally have ordered for you but then canceled.