Spending on health care has been slower in recent years due to the Great Recession, and rising deductibles have left some Americans unwilling to seek out medical care. Yet, the Affordable Care Act has cut Medicare payments to providers and insurance companies, and introduced new initiatives to improve care quality and lower health care costs for patients.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expect national health spending to increase by 5.3 percent in 2015 and peak at 6.3 percent in 2020. Politico suggested that growth in health care spending is being driven by the expanded coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act, continued economic recovery and an aging population.
If health care spending is putting a needle in your budget, you can find ways to cut costs. Here are 10 strategies for avoiding rising health care costs in the coming years.
1. Ask for Generic Prescriptions
Dr. Taffy Wagner, president of Own Your Health Care, said generic drugs are one way to reduce the cost of health care. A generic drug is made of the same ingredients as its brand equivalent but is typically much cheaper, according to The Federal Drug Administration (FDA).
When patents or other periods of exclusivity expire, manufacturers can apply to the FDA to sell generic versions. Applications for new drug approvals do not apply to companies who sell the generic version of a treatment already approved by the FDA, which greatly reduces the cost of production. According to WebMD, generic drugs can save you up to two-thirds on the cost of a drug.
Dr. Jared Heathman, a psychiatrist with Your Family Psychiatrist, said, “Discuss possible generic options with your physician before starting a new medication.” Knowing what generic options are available to you can help you save.
2. Ask Your Pharmacy for Deals on Medication
“Ask if your pharmacy has a program that [offers] certain medications for $4,” Wagner said. Some pharmacies offer coupons or discounts on certain medications.
For example, Walmart offers prescription refills from $4. Walgreens has a prescription savings club, which can provide savings from $50 to over $100 on a 90-day supply of a generic drug. Giant Eagle offers a $4 to $10 generic drug discount program and will match the prices of retail competitors.
Large retail stores and pharmacies can buy generic drugs in bulk, which allow them to sell them at cheaper prices. Some companies sell drugs cheaply and recoup profits when consumers buy other products from the store, such as impulse buys or higher-ticket items.
3. Use Telemedicine
Telemedicine manages patients’ health by remotely exchanging medical information from one site to another via electronic communications. Telemedicine includes the use of video, email, smartphones, wireless electronics and other forms of telecommunications technology. Doctors, health professionals and patients can download health and wellness apps to use on their smartphones, for example.
Currently, there are approximately 200 telemedicine networks with 3,500 service sites, according to the American Telemedicine Association. And telemedicine is growing in the U.S., with over 50 percent of hospitals using it in some form.
Not only can telemedicine save you money, it can save you time, too. ”Using telemedicine for common health problems can avoid co-pays, sitting in waiting rooms and being exposed to more germs," said Wagner.
4. Visit Health Fairs
Wagner said health fairs offer health screenings at little to no cost. A health fair is a community-based promotion event that typically lasts a few days. According to Unite for Site, many health fairs measure height, weight, blood pressure, vision, anemia and blood chemistry, and offer oral screenings, podiatry exams, hearing tests and glaucoma screenings. However, Unite for Site warned that inaccurate results from screening are possible and should be verified.
A study published in the Journal of Cancer Education in 2014 studied the U.S. Latino population, one-third of which is uninsured. Local women reported not receiving health preventative or screening services for over two years because of the cost and a lack of knowledge of service locations. The study concluded that local health fairs provide much-needed community health services to underserved communities.
5. Consider Walk-In Clinics
Walk-in clinics provide health care for patients without pre-scheduled appointments. Some clinics, such as NextCare.com, offer online check-in so that patients can avoid lengthy waits. The provider will alert you by call or text when you are next in line.
“Walgreens has walk-in clinics that may cost less than seeing your regular doctor," Wagner said. This type of clinic will almost certainly be cheaper than a visit to the emergency room. The average cost of a visit to an urgent care facility such as FastMed is $200, while the average cost of a trip to the emergency room is $1,400, according to FastMed.
Debt.org said a walk-in clinic is a good option for non-urgent conditions such as allergic reactions, minor injuries and fevers. However, extreme conditions such as a stroke or heart attack are better treated at an emergency room, which has more resources for more life-threatening conditions.
6. Pay Cash Rather Than Use Health Insurance
Wagner suggested that “paying cash instead of using health insurance can actually save you money in different situations.” Self-Pay Patient, a resource for uninsured patients, described practices that offer cash-friendly services. For example, a basic visit for two chronic conditions or one new condition is $45 at Alliance Internal Medicine & Aesthetics. At Healthcare Bluebooks, your visit could cost between $82 and $137 in the same area.
Dr. Jeff Gold, meanwhile, runs a low-cost direct primary care practice called Gold Direct Care. The services offered by the practice include free visits, same-day appointments and communication via phone, video or email for a monthly fee. The fees start at $30 per month for those 21 and under and increase incrementally to a maximum of $125 for those 65 and older. Gold also offers membership to those age 65 and older at $125 a month.
7. Shop Around for Health Services
Shopping around for health services can help consumers find practices offering cheaper medical plans. Certain websites also allow consumers to determine what their out-of-pocket expenses will be before seeing a doctor about a condition.
Dr. Jonathan Kaplan, founder of BuildMyBod, is a plastic surgeon based in San Francisco. He said, “I started a company that allows consumers to save money on health care by checking out-of-pocket costs before seeing a doctor or scheduling a procedure or service like an X-ray or lab test." He said consumers can add services to a virtual wish list and receive a cost breakdown for the services they're interested in.
8. Consider Online Lending for Costly Procedures
Some costly procedures are not covered by insurance policies but are a priority for certain individuals, such as in vitro-fertilization.
Kwabena Stefan of Batement Group works with the online lender Prosper, which has an arm purely for health care lending. According to Stefan, “Prosper Healthcare Lending offers affordable loans for elective procedures like IVF. Millions of women undergo IVF each year in the U.S., and the average cost of one cycle is $12,000, nearly 25 percent of the average household income in America.”
Stefan explained that through online lending, families can find cheaper, affordable financing for IVF and other elective medical procedures that aren't fully covered by insurance. “Prosper did a study of the U.S. earlier this year that found that 50 percent of patients incur at least $10,000 in debt from IVF, and 21 percent of respondents said insurance covered nothing.”
9. Use Prescription and Other Health Apps
Many new health apps allow consumers to check the price of prescriptions and download coupons. Some apps offer health management and tracking software. Heathman advised you, “Check all of your prescriptions on GoodRx to find online coupons and the cheapest nearby pharmacy.”
Bristol Whitcher of BIGfish Communications said, ”GoodRx is a free website and iOS/Android app that provides prescription pricing information for consumers at the pharmacies closest to them.” The app allows users to type in their prescription and zip code to see prices at nearby pharmacies and manufacturer coupons.
“Even those who have insurance often find GoodRx prices are lower than their co-pays," said Whitcher. "For example, someone filling a Lipitor prescription may only pay $12.60 at Kmart, but would pay $75.78 at Rite Aid, even with GoodRx’s free coupon.”
10. Check If You Need to Continue Taking Your Prescriptions
As you age, the medications you take will change. Additionally, specialists that you see for certain conditions might prescribe additional medications. Your primary care doctor should be aware of any new drugs you are prescribed, as some might interact undesirably with a drug you are already taking. You might also be paying for and taking drugs you no longer need.