Medical expenses can add up quickly. There are many actions you can take to lower your health care costs beyond choosing affordable health insurance. We’d like to share five easy things you can do to keep health care costs low.
1. See your doctor.
It’s hard to stress the importance of preventive care, but it’s one of the easiest ways to help reduce health care costs for you and your family. Visit the doctor for an annual physical to be sure you are in good overall health. At the exam, the nurse and doctor will discuss any concerns you have, ensure you are up to date on vaccinations, and perform recommended screenings and tests depending on factors such as age, gender, and health status.
Under the Affordable Care Act, many preventive services are covered at no extra cost to patients. This means no copayment, co-insurance, or deductible apply to preventive services covered under the law, including well-women visits; screenings such as blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity; immunization vaccines such as the flu shot, hepatitis A and B, and tetanus; and more.
Read the full list of preventive services covered under the Affordable Care Act
2. Perform self-exams, avoid reactive care.
Becoming familiar with your body can help alert you to problems before they escalate into major health concerns. For example, women perform monthly breast self-exams, which are not recommended as a screening tool but rather a way to become aware of the normal look and feel in order to detect changes, according to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The American Cancer Society advises that men perform testicular self-exams each month. Self-screenings for skin cancer and oral cancer are recommended for everyone.
If you notice a growth, lump, or just something that wasn’t there before and has not gone away over a period of time, get it checked out. If you feel out of sorts without explanation, trust that your body is telling you something. Track your symptoms and schedule an appointment to discuss them with your physician. Don’t wait six months; go now. Specialty doctors are more expensive than a family doctor, and sometimes a family doctor can diagnose the problem. If you need to be seen by a specialty doctor, your primary care physician will be able to give you a recommendation.
Read Everyday Health’s “8 Self-Exams for Optimal Men’s Health”
Learn what daily health exams women should perform, according to Women’s Health Magazine
3. Save the emergency room for emergencies.
If you have a cold, see if you can remedy it with soup, over-the-counter medicine and rest. Otherwise, schedule an appointment with your family doctor. Look into same- or next-day appointments or consider a trip to a Minute Clinic for minor illnesses and injuries, such as strep throat, poison ivy, joint sprains, pink eye, or infections related to the ears, nose, and/or throat.
Going immediately to the emergency room will undoubtedly be more expensive than a visit to your local pharmacy or primary care physician. Save the ER for life-threatening situations. Urgent care is another alternative for after-hours visits or situations in which you need treatment right away but can’t get an appointment. Although urgent care will cost less than the ER, it will still be more expensive than a regular appointment.
Read “Listen to Your Symptoms – When to Seek Emergency Care” from the American College of Emergency Physicians
4. Take care of your body now.
A healthy diet full of nutrient-dense foods and regular exercise could drive down your health care costs over time. A healthy lifestyle can help save you money on prescription drugs and frequent doctor visits due to ongoing illnesses.
Eating healthy and getting more exercise doesn’t mean joining an expensive gym or shopping at specialty food stores. You can make changes to your life today by starting small and working towards attainable goals. If you know you need to quit smoking, start by cutting back and making a gradual change before going “cold turkey.” Add a whole fruit or vegetable to your diet, and instead of a mixed drink have beer or wine. Buy foods in their natural state versus pre-packaged foods. Instead of elevators, take the stairs. Instead of letting your dog out in the backyard, take her for a walk. Spend time with your family at a park or even the mall instead of in front of your television.
A healthy lifestyle will not only help drive down your health care costs, it will likely make you feel more energized and increase your sense of well-being.
5. Practice safety and hygiene.
Accidents happen, and they often result in injury. Taking minor actions to prevent them can go a long ways. When participating in sports, make sure you and your family members wear the appropriate protective equipment—mouthguards, helmets, padding. Keep chemicals and choking hazards away from small children. Remind kids not to run in the house. Slow down and pay attention to what you are doing, whether you are at home, at work, or in the car.
Visit the National Safety Council to learn more about household safety.