Tuesday, February 5, 2013

National Wise Health Consumer Month

Did you know that more than half of Americans surveyed in 2011 don't think it is possible to save money on their health care coverage by shopping around. We don't think to ask doctors to negotiate a price on treatments like we do when we go to buy a car or purchase other big ticket items. Do we think to question the necessity of medical tests that are so routinely ordered these days? Some might not be necessary. Well, February has been designated as National Wise Health Care Consumer Month just for that purpose.
Health care costs have escalated to the point that we are now going without treatment for many preventative treatments in order to not have the high medical expenses down the road that could have been headed off if preventative care had been followed. 

With health care costs rising, research your
options before buying a plan.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (ARCH) the average cost of a visit to the doctor is about $199; a visit to the ER costs about $922. Up to a quarter of these visits may be unnecessary and the cost  amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually! 

Out of pocket medical bills cost the average consumer almost $3,000 annually.  This results from meeting higher deductibles plus the shared costs with  insurance companies covering 70 - 80% of medical bills, while the other 20-30% is picked up by the consumer.  This can add up quickly so it is really important to study your plan options and read the fine print to save yourself some money down the line.

Explore your options if you are trying to save money on your health care coverage.  Become an informed consumer in order to make the right choices. Consider checking into the following types of service:
  • Fee-For-Service - Probably the most expensive of all plans but might be best when considering your personal situation. These plans offer basic coverage, such as doctor visits, surgeries and hospitalization. When the maximum coverage is reached, major medical coverage takes over. 
    Comprehensive major medical covers basic and major medical expenses. Many employers offer this type of coverage. 
  • Health Maintenance Organizations charge a monthly fee, or premium, but provide coverage within their network of doctors with little to no deductible. Co-pays differ, so it is important to consider how many visits you make to doctors and specialists per year, as well as your monthly budget. If you choose to be treated ouside of the network, additional charges may apply.

Keep costs under control

health care costs
You can save money on
your health care

With health insurance premiums on the rise, there's a good reason many Americans are concerned about the cost of their coverage. So when you're selecting a plan, be sure to ask these questions so you'll have a better idea how much you'll actually have to pay for health care:

  • Is there a deductible and, if so, how much is it?
  • What are the co-pays for each type of service (doctor visits, specialists and emergency room).
  • Is there a prescription plan, how much do I pay for generics vs. brand, are my medications covered?
  • What is covered under hospitalization? Will I have to pay a certain amount per day, during my stay?
Understanding these options when reviewing health insurance plans and taking into consideration your own health needs can save you money in the long run. If you are not currently dealing with a health issue, it can be difficult to anticipate these costs, but remember that emergencies don't always come with a warning, so you don't want to get caught with inadequate coverage when you need it.
A drawback of an HMO could be giving up your doctor, if he or she is not in network, along with easy access to specialists and hospitals outside the plan. If your doctor or specialist is not part of an HMO network, a PPO plan might be best for you. Consumer Reports discusses the differences between the two types of plan as well as point of service and high deductible plans. Remember that there are options available. Even if you have coverage through your employer, they often offer both an HMO and a PPO plan, or if you make your health care needs known to your employer, they might be able to offer something that better fits your needs. 

There are also other options available to help cut your medical costs, such as the FamilyWize discount prescription card. You can download the card for free and start saving up to 75% on prescription costs. FamilyWize essentially acts like a huge consumer group buying service for the uninsured and underinsured. Over 60,000 pharmacies across the country participate in the FamilyWize discount card program. The FamilyWize website also has community resource links for each state that can direct you to agencies that can help you save on health care costs, food and housing assistance and help with utilities.

Become an informed consumer when the selection of your Health Care Plan is up to you.  Make sure you take the time to research just what plans are out there that will meet your own needs. 

Cindy Foley
Contributing Writer

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