A few good stories about how to save money on healthcare: The New York Times has an interview with a physician on when and how to bring up the subject of cost and ways to try to lower your bill. I’ve done this myself; I have no prescription coverage at all. When I mentioned this to my doc, she sent me home with a bag burgeoning with free samples of a prescription medication. Always ask for the generic version of the drug a doctor is prescribing, and compare prices; I’ve found warehouse clubs and discount stores offer the best deals.
Separately, The Wall Street Journal has a piece on home-testing kits for conditions such as high cholesterol, that allow people to keep tabs on their health without having to see their physician on a regular basis and deal with a burdensome co-pay. The story offers advice on making sure you’re buying a legitimate kit, and when you may want to take the results to a doctor.
Also check out CNNMoney’s story on a health care solution from Sam’s Club: “For $99, buyers of the program get an annual subscription to a web-based program that includes an at-home blood screening test that tracks an individual’s cholesterol, blood sugar and hemoglobin levels. That information is then used to create a personalized Prevention Plan that identifies, prioritizes and explains users’ health risks and recommends steps to improve their health. Buyers of the program also get access to a 24/7 nurse line, two health coaching sessions, recommended prevention screenings, schedule and alerts based on age, gender and risks and a physician summary that can be shown to a doctor.”
Meanwhile, if you’re interested in the health care debate, check out this story “How American Health Care Killed My Father” by David Goldhill from an issue of The Atlantic last fall. It’s a long but worthwhile read, underscoring why the new law isn’t really going to solve the health care financial crisis (health care now devours 18 percent of GDP).
Goldhill discusses the evolution of employer-sponsored health insurance, which was a historical accident: With wage controls set in place following the second World War, employers competed for talent by offering comprehensive health benefits. The system was institutionalized after Congress provided employers with a tax break for these benefits in the 1950s.
What Goldhill does brilliantly is explain why those “free” health benefits are killing your pocketbook. Employer-provided health insurance is like landlord-provided air conditioning — you use a ton of both resources when you don’t have to foot the bill. But here’s the problem: You are. The money has to come from somewhere. As Goldhill describes it:
“In 2007, employer-based health insurance cost, on average, more than $12,000 per family, up 78 percent since 2001. I’ve run several companies and company divisions of various sizes over the course of my career, so I can confidently tell you that raises (and even entry-level hiring) are tightly limited by rising health-care costs. You may think your employer is paying for your health care, but in fact your company’s share of the insurance premium comes out of your potential wage increase. Where else could it come from?
“Let’s say you’re a 22-year-old single employee at my company today, starting out at a $30,000 annual salary. Let’s assume you’ll get married in six years, support two children for 20 years, retire at 65, and die at 80. Now let’s make a crazy assumption: insurance premiums, Medicare taxes and premiums, and out-of-pocket costs will grow no faster than your earnings—say, 3 percent a year. By the end of your working days, your annual salary will be up to $107,000. And over your lifetime, you and your employer together will have paid $1.77 million for your family’s health care. $1.77 million! And that’s only after assuming the taming of costs! In recent years, health-care costs have actually grown 2 to 3 percent faster than the economy. If that continues, your 22-year-old self is looking at an additional $2 million or so in expenses over your lifetime—roughly $4 million in total.
“Would you have guessed these numbers were so large? If not, you have good cause: only a quarter would be paid by you directly (and much of that after retirement). The rest would be spent by others on your behalf, deducted from your earnings before you received your paycheck. And that’s a big reason why our health-care system is so expensive.”
Think about it: Does your auto insurance cover oil changes or door dings? Does your homeowner’s cover the paint job needed after a long winter, or cleaning the gutters? Unless someone has a chronic condition, health insurance should work the same way: A high-deductible, low-cost catastrophic policy and a health savings account that allows the consumer to set aside their own cash tax-free for doctor’s visits and prescriptions — and keep it if they don’t use it.
Any thoughts or tips on saving money on health care?