How to save on health-care costs now–instead of waiting for the government

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Waiting for health-care reform?  Guess what.  It’s going to be a while, and no matter what the changes are, it will stay relatively expensive.  In the end, it’s still our responsibility to take care of ourselves, and to find ways to limit costs.  We can do that now.

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. If you need a prescription, don’t be afraid to ask for generics. Sometimes only a brand name will do or there is a question of quality, but that’s rare.  Talk with your doctor.  Most medicines can be substituted with impressive savings.
  2. If you have limited income and will be on the drug for a long time, look into drug companies’ savings programs. Also, call or Web-search the pharmaceutical company that makes the medicine to discover if they offer discounts.  You will may have to get your doctor in on it and fill out some forms.
  3. Negotiate. If you have no insurance, shop around for doctors who give discounts for paying cash.
  4. Submit charges to your insurance even if you have a high deductible.  Insurance companies have limits on what they will pay providers.  If your doctor accepts the insurance, you may get the savings.
  5. Don’t wait until you end up in the ER.  Schedule physicals and tests in advance. Have time to shop and find the best prices and who takes your insurance.
  6. Educate yourself about your health by reading reliable sources (shameless plug for JHMFD).
  7. Live a healthy lifestyle. Do I really need to go into how much tobacco costs, both in money and your health?
  8. Find a good doctor you trust. Stick with him or her for advice and treatment.  If you have doubts, get a second opinion.

These are just for starters.  What other tips do you have?

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2 Responses to “How to save on health-care costs now–instead of waiting for the government”

  1. DR Says:

    Great advice as usual.

    I have a question for you about generic drugs.

    Personally, I have always gone that route to save money. However, I read a newspaper article over the weekend that said that (unknown to me) there are often differences between the ‘brand name” and the generic option.

    The article said that in one case, the generic brand dissolved quicker than the brand name, resulting in quicker absorption of the drug. Instead of a gradual release, there was a big spike and then a trough.

    Have you heard of this?

    DRs last blog post..Squidoo Lens: TOXIC FAT

  2. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Only if the brand name is in a slow-release form and the generic is not. If that is the case, then the generic should not be substituted as equivalent.
    For instance, the blood pressure medicine Calan 120 mg (brand name) is essentially equivalent to verapamil 120 mg (generic), but Calan SR (slow release) is released more slowly and taken less often, so it is equivalent to verapamil sr and not plain verapamil.

    The other difference is that oral generics can be within 20 percent either way for absorbtion, so you can get 20 percent less or 20 more of the active drug. Fortunately that is ok in almost all drugs since the dosage for most treatments is not exact anyway. Common infections is a good example. However, it could potentially be a problem in medicines that have a more exact treatment, such as thyroid and certain heart medicines.

    Your provider could answer that for you, and probably would put “brand name only” on the prescription if that is a question.


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