How to: Get Better, Cheaper Health Care Without Insurance (25 Tips, Tricks and Resources)

Health care has been at the forefront of political and popular debate more than ever as costs continue to rise in the face of an unstable economy. With rising energy costs, falling real estate prices, and no national health care system, many people simply have to learn to do without the medical care they need. There are, however, ways to save on health care costs without having to sign up for a pricey insurance plan. Here are a few tips for saving your healthcare dollars, as well as a number of information sources for localized, low-cost healthcare.

Medical Care

Need some advice on how to cut down on your skyrocketing health care costs? These tips can give you a few ideas that may help take some of the pressure off of your wallet.

  1. Take advantage of walk-in clinics. Chances are, if you just have a head cold or need a refill on a prescription like birth control pills, you don't need to head into a full-fledged hospital or even a traditional doctor's office. These facilities tend to be cheaper and can suit the needs of most people for any minor illnesses or medical issues. Major retailer Wal-Mart has even announced plans to open their own clinic, allowing you to get a diagnosis for your cold while you're picking up some chicken soup. Many chain drugstores like Walgreens and CVS already have this kind of clinic on-site.
  2. Consider alternative therapies. Chronic back pain and stress related illnesses, no matter how annoying they may be, may not always warrant a trip to the doctor's office. Many alternative therapies like massage and acupuncture can be just as effective and might save you a few dollars in the long run. Before starting any of these therapies, however, make sure you are in the proper condition to do so.
  3. Try a nurse. Nurse practitioners can often give patients just as good of care as doctors, but at a much lower cost. When care from the two are compared, studies have shown that nurses often have more time to spend with patients and do just as good of a job diagnosing problems.
  4. Research medical tourism. While there is some element of risk involved with traveling abroad to have surgery, the reality is that medical tourism is becoming increasingly popular. Often, patients can undergo elective or necessary surgeries at a mere fraction of what they would if they stayed in the US. As an added bonus, many facilities offer rest and recuperation in a spa or resort-like environment. Before considering traveling abroad to save on medical procedures, make sure you have considered and weighed all the risks and are in fit condition to make the journey.
  5. Check out a health fair. In an attempt to increase the number of people who get screened for some of the most common illnesses and diseases, many health fairs and clinic openings will offer free routine screenings. These can help you to get an idea of your blood pressure, blood sugar and other symptoms that could be telling of a major medical problem. While you won't get a firm diagnosis, you will get the advice and information you need to figure out if you need qualified medical attention.
  6. Volunteer for medical schools. Many medical schools offer communities low cost or free medical care clinics that the school uses as a training ground for its students. If you can brave the crowd of students and the longer wait time as your case is discussed, you can enjoy high quality and low cost health care.
  7. Pick up the phone. If you're prone to sinus infections or just need some help with seasonal allergies, you might be able to get medical help over the phone. Services like TelaDoc cost $35 plus a registration fee and a monthly fee, but can get you help for small problems without the cost of an in-office visit. Keep in mind that the service isn't meant for serious issues or more complicated diagnoses.
  8. Avoid the weekend. Unless you have a true medical emergency that sends you to the hospital on the weekend, its best to schedule routine procedures and hospital check-ins during the week. Many hospital departments are closed during the weekend or have reduced staff, which can quickly elevate the cost of even a short stay in the hospital. You'll get more attention and a smaller bill if you wait until Monday to head into the hospital.
  9. Check your bill. Don't take it for granted that your bill is entirely accurate as it is sent to you. Experts say that up to 50% of hospital bills may have errors in them. While not all of these errors are huge, every little bit you can save on healthcare helps, so check and double check the accounting on your bill. If you feel that there's a problem with your bill take it up with the hospital's accounting department or work with the Alliance of Claims Assistance Professionals who can negotiate a settlement for you for an hourly fee.
  10. Strike a deal. Investigative journalists Donald Barlett and James Steele discovered that customers footing their own bills were often charged much more for the same treatment than that covered by insurance or Medicare. If you feel your bill is disproportionate you may be right. Take up your concerns with the hospital and see if you can negotiate a price that's more reasonable. If they refuse to budge, you may be able to gain more ground by hiring a lawyer who specializes in these types of cases.

Prescriptions and Equipment

Those living the the US often pay much more than those in other countries for prescription drugs. There are ways to cut costs, however, as you'll see with these money-saving tips.

  1. Shop around. Just because one store sells the drugs you need for one price doesn't mean that every store will. Take the time to comparison shop on the Web before you ever head out to your local pharmacy. You can find help in locating the lowest prices with Consumer Reports, the AARP or the Medicare Rights Center.
  2. Buy store brands. Worried the store brand cough syrup or heartburn medication won't work as well as the name brand alternative? Your fretting could be unfounded, as many store brands are manufactured by the same company and simply sold under a different name and price tag. If you're still in doubt, check the ingredients, many will be virtually identical.
  3. Go for generic. With ads for drugs all over the place nowadays, its easy to get a name-brand stuck in your head as the only option for treatment of a particular ailment. But the reality is that generic drugs can provide these same benefits at a fraction of the cost. Talk with your doctor about your need to save money and see if there's a cheaper alternative to your current prescription.
  4. See if you qualify for freebies. Those with low incomes may actually qualify to get some assistance in purchasing their necessary prescription drugs. Older individuals on a fixed and low income can check with the The Partnership for Prescription Assistance or the drug manufacturer to see if they qualify for any of the prescription assistance programs. Those who don't can still score freebies for short term prescriptions by asking their doctors for samples. Drug companies often distribute these as a way to get more business, but there's no reason you can't take advantage.
  5. Double up. Medication often comes in a wide variety of dosages to suit the needs of patients, but depending on what you need to take, you may be able to save money by taking more of a lower dosage pills than just one of a higher dosage. While this may not be possible in every case, it's an option worth checking out if you need to pinch pennies.
  6. Cut it in half. Likewise, some medications are cheaper to buy in higher dosages and split into the smaller dosages you need. Most medications that come in tablet or pill form (not capsules) can easily be split in half. Of course, lways make sure to check with your doctor before altering any medication to make sure its safe and effective for you.
  7. Get creative. Work with your doctor or pharmacist to see if you can't find a lower cost solution to your prescription drug costs. In some cases, combining two lower cost medications may give you the exact same result as one higher cost one and could save you a significant amount in the process. Keep in mind, though, that you should never mix medications without consulting with your physician first, as many drugs can have serious side effects when taken in conjunction with others.
  8. Reuse and recycle. Need a new walker, adjustable bed or crutches? In many cases there is no sense in paying full price for these items that you may only use for a short time or not very often. Friends, neighbors or even a church group may have equipment that can suit your needs at a greatly reduced cost.
  9. Bargain for frames. While you might be able to get away with not going into the doctor for a cold, you can't get by without eyewear that suits your current needs and prescription. Trouble is, glasses are often marked up 1,000 percent or more. For lower cost frames try shopping at retail stores or large chains instead of the eye doctor's office. If you simply have to have the pair at your ophthalmologist's, see if you can't bargain down the cost or get extra features added on for free.

Resources

Still looking for advice on cost-cutting measures? These helpful resources can get you started on the path to cheaper and better health care.

  1. Health Resources and Services Administration: This site from the US government can help you find low-cost health care centers in your area, get access to need-based health care assistance and even help expecting mothers find a way to get reliable prenatal care without incurring huge fees.
  2. Medical Information Bureau: Can't understand why you are quoted such a high rate for medical insurance? The MIB maintains records on insureds that are given to member organizations when they are underwriting your policies. Understanding how this process works and knowing about your own health insurance history can help you find ways to lower your insurability costs.
  3. Artist's Health Insurance Resource Center: For many who are self-employed either in their own business or working as a freelancer, getting health insurance or affordable health care isn't always easy. This site provides resources for actors, businesspeople, low-income workers and the under-insured that help manage their health care needs in a way that won't hurt their finances.
  4. The Health Assistance Partnership: If you're not sure where to begin looking for help on what rights you have to health care and coverage, try giving this site a thorough read. You'll find information regarding legal rights to treatment and free information on Medicare, Medicare drug coverage, Medicaid and low-income benefits, supplemental coverage and long-term care.
  5. Bureau of Primary Health Care: You don't have to hunt around fruitlessly to find government subsidized and low cost health care in your area. This site gives a state-by-state guide to low-cost health centers, especially those in areas that are typically undeserved medically.
  6. NIDCR Guide to Finding Low Cost Dental Care: Dental care is an integral part of a health care plan, and you can get information on how you can save on your next visit to a dentist with these helpful tips, links and resources from the National Institute of Dental and Crainofacial Research.