Five Simple Steps to Taking Control of Your Health Care Costs: A Doctor Weighs In

When we’re just starting out, setting money aside for health care costs is the last thing we think about doing with our paychecks. But just as the importance of your health is very real, so are the big numbers that come on the doctor’s bill. Get five inside tips from Dr. Erika Schwartz on making your health care costs easily manageable.

By: Dr. Erika Schwartz, Medical Director of Cinergy Health

The health care spending tide is rising rapidly, forcing individuals and businesses to cut back on health insurance coverage or forego it altogether. And as a doctor, I am first to admit that our health care system is bubbling over with inefficiencies, including unnecessary administrative expenses, inflated prices, fraud, waste and poor regulation – to name a few. And these problems are what catalyze the exponential increase in the cost of medical care associated with government health programs, employer-provided insurance and individual health insurance.

According to a study done by McKinsey & Company* and reported by the National Coalition on HealthCare, of the over $2 trillion spent by the U.S. on health care in 2006, $186 billion was related to high administrative costs and $436 billion was related to outpatient care. This is almost $650 billion above what we would expect to spend based on the level of U.S. wealth compared with other nations.

So what can you do to decrease your health care costs in order to not only save money, but to save yourself from the all too common stress associated with money problems which, ironically, leads to health complications which lead to more money spent on health care which leads to…you get the point. This slippery slope is all too common, but there are some things you can do to ward off unnecessary health expenses as much as humanly possible.

O M E N S – Five Simple Steps

  1. Observe Preventative Measures
  2. Manage Your Prescriptions
  3. Educate Yourself
  4. Negotiate Doctor’s fees
  5. Scrutinize Medical Bills

Observe Preventative Measures: Simply stated, take care of your body and mind. Eat a healthy diet, take daily nutritional supplements, choose the stairs instead of the elevator, and stay away from junk foods, alcohol and smoking. You’ll see the doctor a lot less and feel much better. It’s your life after all, so be in control of it.

Make sure your doctor does more than just diagnose illness and prescribe medication. And assuming he/she is helping you maintain a healthy diet, exercise regimen and overall healthy lifestyle, follow the advice (but also use the internet to get a second or third opinion as necessary), and you will have more money to spend on things you enjoy.

Manage Your Prescriptions: Prescription medications are very costly. Be sure to ask your prescribing physician or pharmacist for the equivalent, generic brand of the medication they are ordering. If a generic comparable medication is not available ask your physician if they can find a substitute from your insurance plan’s preferred drug list.

Educate Yourself: The internet is a web of knowledge. Do your own investigating before running to the doctor’s office every time you have the sniffles. When you go to the doctor make sure you bring the information with you and ask questions. Make sure the doctor gives you acceptable answers.

Negotiate Doctor’s Fees: Never assume the first price is set in stone. Call your insurance company and ask for the rates they pay their doctors for the specific procedure you need (hint: it is usually lower than the price the doctor charges the patient). Approach your doctor with this information and ask them to lower their price. You may be surprised at their willingness to negotiate. If the doctor is unwilling to negotiate their fee, find another doctor who will. The same strategy applies when you are seeing an out of network doctor or seeing a doctor while uninsured.

Scrutinize Your Medical Bills: Don’t presuppose that hospital and medical office accounting departments always pay close attention to the bills they send. Be sure to double check everything you receive and if there are any discrepancies, contact the hospital or medical offices to clear up the bill, then send the information to your insurance company promptly.

If you follow these “OMENS” carefully, you will be five steps closer to being in control of your health care costs and to leading a healthier and happier life. The rest is up to you.

* McKinsey & Company, Accounting for the Cost of U.S. Health Care – A New Look on Why Americans Spend More. McKinsey & Company, 2007