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50 Easy Tips to Lower Your Healthcare Expenses

With the future of U.S. healthcare on unsteady ground, both the insured and uninsured are looking for creative ways to lower their medical expenses. This list has ideas to help you hack frustrating insurance policies, stay healthy so that you can lessen the amount of times you visit the doctor each year, and even explore alternatives like free clinics and international medicine.

Insurance Hacks

Figure out how to make the most of your health insurance plan by taking note of these ideas.

  1. Join a union: Unions frequently offer discounts or special packages to their members in an effort to help unemployed workers, freelancers and entrepreneurs.
  2. Get married: Getting married just for the health insurance deal is of course not recommended, but spouses can pool together their savings and find two-for-one deals that are cheaper than paying for two separate accounts.
  3. Shop around: The health benefits your employer offers you may not be the best for your lifestyle and health conditions. Consider finding your own insurance, getting on your spouse's insurance or requesting a different policy.
  4. Stay with your parent's health insurance as long as possible: Students just graduating college or vocational school usually have a cushion of time before they're required to find their own insurance coverage. Find out how long you have to depend on Mom and Dad before wasting money on your own policy too soon.
  5. Evaluate your life insurance needs: MSN Money publishes this helpful guide to determining how much, if any, life insurance you need. Don't waste your money on a major policy if you're young and healthy.
  6. Become incorporated: Business owners who are incorporated are eligible for tax deductible employee and employer costs like health insurance.
  7. Find out exactly what kind of insurance you need: Do you know if you need disability insurance? Life insurance? Long term care insurance? Use this guide to help you figure out what's best for you.
  8. Get a discount medical card: This article considers the option of getting a discount medical card, a system that "allow[s] consumers to gain access to the healthcare they need without the exclusions, limitations, and paperwork typically associated with health insurance."
  9. Find a discount dental plan: Discount dental plans are sometimes viable solutions for individuals seeking coverage.
  10. Don't pick low co-pays if you never go to the doctor: When was the last time you actually went to the doctor? If you're an ace at home remedies and almost never get sick, paying a lower premium with higher co-pays is a smart move.
  11. Don't pick high co-pays if you always go to the doctor: Consumers needing extra medical attention and who frequent the doctor's office will want a policy that features lower co-pays, even if that means paying a steeper premium.
  12. Try Medicare: Subsidized systems like Medicare are controversial because of their current state of disorganization, but if you can qualify for a subsidized policy, your healthcare costs could go down.
  13. Look into preventive care options: CNBC's Bertha Coombs suggests looking into preventive care options, especially if they are offered under your company's plan. You can catch serious, chronic diseases like cancer ahead of time when you go for regular screenings, which could save you money in the long run.
  14. Understand all the fine print: Knowing how to navigate around the rules for pre-existing conditions, second opinions, specialists and general practitioners could save you major bucks in penalties and extra fees.
  15. Know your network: If at all possible, stay within your network. Call ahead to make sure the clinic of your choice is an in-network facility that charges the minimum fee.

Personal Tips

These tips will help you stay healthy and away from the doctor, giving your budget a break from costly visits and procedures.

  1. Quit smoking: Smoking not only affects your health, it also affects your chances of getting low cost, quality coverage. Insurance agents see a habit of smoking as a red flag that indicates serious, long term care in the years to come.
  2. Exercise: Exercising is an easy, low cost way to keep yourself in shape and improve your overall health, limiting the number of times you'll need to see the doctor for common ailments.
  3. Floss: Floss your teeth 2-3 times a day to reduce your chance of getting cavities and having to pay for the dentist.
  4. De-stress: Serious stress is responsible for a number of health problems including back pain, toothaches, insomnia and more. Take a yoga class or just meditate a few minutes each day to calm yourself down from the busy day.
  5. Get an HSA: Getting a Health Savings Account could help you budget your finances so that you're consistently setting money aside for healthcare. Check here to find out whether or not you're eligible.
  6. Set up your own savings account: If you're not eligible for an HSA, set up a separate savings account just for health costs. You'll feel better knowing exactly how much you've got and how far it will take you.
  7. Stick up for yourself: Sometimes health insurance companies try to get away with as much as they can in fees, contract discrepancies and technicalities. If you're unsure about extra costs or penalties, stick up for yourself and raise a stink. You might get lucky, and they'll drop the case.
  8. Set up an HRA: Health reimbursement plans, or HRAs, help employers reduce the cost of offering health insurance to their employees.
  9. Eat well: A healthy diet will not only make you feel and look better, you'll benefit from the indirect effects as well, like boosting your immune system and eliminating risk factors associated with obesity.
  10. Get a good night's sleep: You can put your body at risk for serious diseases if you don't get enough sleep each night.
  11. Make sure you're living in a healthy environment: If you're living near the site of a radioactive land fill or nuclear power plant, you may be at risk for potential long term health problems. Or, living in a drafty apartment could increase your chances of getting a cold or pneumonia. If you can't afford to move, give your insulation a makeover.
  12. Understand your family's health profile: Does diabetes or heart disease run in your family? If so, find out what you can do to prevent developing the disease. You may need to make changes to your diet, lifestyle or prescriptions.
  13. Search for a job with great insurance: When the economy's down, you may not be able to be too choosy when it comes to finding employment, but if you're in a position to make an employer fight for you, use adequate health insurance coverage to leverage your availability.
  14. Be responsible for your own health records: Make or request copies of your health records so that you don't have to pay for repeat tests when your doctor's office loses charts or you decide to visit a specialist.

Other Smart Tricks

From buying generic meds to trying your own home remedies, try out these smart tricks for keeping your healthcare costs down.

  1. Don't buy name brand medications : There's usually a big difference in the amount you'll pay for generic and name brand meds. Unless your condition specifically requires a certain product, go with the generic version.
  2. Get a flu shot: If you think you're at risk for getting the flu because of your age or profession, go ahead and get a flu shot. The flu can sometimes turn into a more serious problem that could land you in the hospital.
  3. Know the hospitals and doctor's offices in your area: If you need to get to the doctor in a hurry, you may not be as worried about cost as you are about location. Go ahead and familiarize yourself with the flat fees and policies and associated with nearby clinics so that you can make a quick decision during an emergency. That way, you're not stuck with an obscene bill that could have been prevented.
  4. Use Grandma's home remedies: When you got sick at Grandma's, did you always have to rush off to the doctor? Chances are, she whipped up a special concoction to soothe your sore throat. Find more home remedies here.
  5. Take a virtual trip to the doctor: A trip to the doctor doesn't necessarily have to cost you anymore than your monthly Internet bill. Sites like WebMD can help you diagnose your symptoms and find creative ways to get healthy.
  6. Get out and vote: Do your research ahead of time before the next election to find out which candidate plans on giving you the most optimum health benefits.
  7. Don't get an X-ray every time you go to the dentist: X-rays do catch hard-to-find cavities, but if you go to the dentist religiously, you may not need one each time. They add on major bucks to your bill, and some doctors warn against the possible effects of harmful radiation.
  8. Get samples of medications for short term symptoms: CNBC's Bertha Coombs also recommends asking for samples for short term symptoms and illnesses. Ask your doctor, not the pharmacy.
  9. Haggle with your doctor: This site provides tips for bargaining with your doctor to lower the bill. Ideas include finding out what others are paying and paying in cash.
  10. Don't go to the emergency room unless it's really an emergency: Eons.com reports that ER visits are "the most expensive way to get medical treatment." You'll rack up a much higher bill than if you went to your regular doctor.
  11. Get to know your doctor: Eons.com also encourages that patients foster a close relationship with their doctor, which could result in special discounts and more flexible payment plans.
  12. Split coverage among family members: Sometimes, counting on one health insurance policy isn't the best move. Consider your options for splitting your family up under different coverage plans to take advantage of varying benefits and policies.

Low Cost Clinics

Visit these low cost clinics to save money on doctor's visits and consultations.

  1. Wal-Mart: Some of Wal-Mart's health service tactics are controversial, but customers often find cheaper meds and services at the chain than at smaller doctor's offices and pharmacies.
  2. Planned Parenthood: This clinic doesn't just serve women. Men can also receive STD tests, and costs are much cheaper than at traditional clinics.
  3. Texas MedClinic: Those living in Texas have access to services and doctor's visits at the various Texas MedClinics spread across the state.
  4. Free Clinics: Check out this list of free clinics that serve people around the U.S.
  5. National Association of Free Clinics: Visit this website to locate free clinics and find out about available services.
  6. HRSA Find Affordable Health Care: Visit this website from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration to find affordable clinics near you.

International Resources

Whether you're going on a vacation abroad and want to make sure you're covered, or you're considering buying medications across the border, take a look at these resources.

  1. International Student Insurance: Students traveling abroad are eligible for many health insurance options just for them.
  2. Make sure you're covered: Before you go abroad, check your current health insurance policy to see whether or not you're covered. If you're not, explore your options to find temporary add-ons.
  3. Going abroad to find meds: Sometimes referred to as medical tourism, going abroad for medical treatment or buying prescriptions online from different countries is controversial. You may find better deals, but you need to be absolutely sure of the quality of the meds and services you're exposing yourself to.