Fifty-fifty odds aren't good enough for a game of Russian roulette, and likewise aren't good enough when it comes to paying for health care.
Here are a few ideas that may help anyone cut down on health care costs.
• Lose weight. Increasingly, employers and insurers are adamant about weight loss. This information is not good news for Alabama's population. According to a 2008 report by the Centers for Disease Control, Alabama has an obesity rate of 31.4 percent. A Stanford University and Rand Corp. study reported that lifetime medical costs linked to diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension and stroke are $10,000 higher among the obese than the non-obese. The study added that a 10 percent reduction in body weight could reduce lifetime medical costs by $2,200 to $5,300.
Weight loss may be tough, but it makes financial sense because it results in better health insurance options and fewer out-of-pocket expenses. It is also likely that if health reform ends pre-existing condition exclusions, health insurers will more strongly encourage a healthy weight and lifestyle.
• Read the fine print. Whether you purchase health insurance through an agent or your employer, find out specifically what the premiums cover and what deductibles apply.
• Explore the potential cost of a diagnosis. If your physician diagnoses a condition that requires X-rays, tests, prescription drugs, a hospital stay or therapy, ask courteous yet thorough questions about what you will be charged. Ask the office manager what ancillary costs are associated with the treatment and see if discounts can be negotiated through cash payments. Be careful that you are not being charged a rate for uninsured patients when you are merely paying out of pocket in order to meet reach your deductible. And, don't be shy about asking for generic options and drug samples.
• Be smart about emergency and non-emergency health visits. Emergency-room visits tend to cost $300 to $1,000 compared with $150 at an urgent-care center. Find out from the local United Way if there are community health clinics that might meet your needs for low or even no cost. Research what needs may be met at community clinics as well as their hours of operation. Make sure any health care facility you visit is in your health plan's network so anything you pay out-of-pocket counts toward your deductible. Your insurer's 24-hour hotline is a good source for guidance on where to go, but either tape that call or keep written documentation of it in case your claim is denied.
• Sign up for your company's flexible spending account. A flexible spending account (FSA) is an account where you deposit funds on a pre-tax basis to pay for medical expenses not paid by your insurance. It can cover things like deductibles, glasses, hearing aids, Tylenol, and even dentures, but you should check the particular provisions at your company. Any funds not spent by the end of the plan year are lost so estimate carefully.