Sunday, January 2, 2011

How to Take a Scalpel to Medical Costs

How to Take a Scalpel to Medical Costs

In light of rising health care costs, Bills. com prescribes surgical strikes to medical bills

San Mateo, Calif. (PRWEB) October 11, 2006 –

With an increase in health care costs during 2006 that was nearly twice the pace of inflation, many consumers are questioning how they can pinch pennies on medical care -- without sacrificing their family's well-being. Brad Stroh, co-CEO of Bills. com, suggests that there are ways to get good care for bargain fees.

"With the increasing popularity of so-called 'consumer-driven' health plans, individuals have greater control over their health care dollars," Stroh said. "Whatever health plan you use, you can reduce your medical expenses. The seven tips below apply to everyone – even those with no health insurance."

1. Compare drug costs. While traveling abroad to purchase medications (which Stroh noted is illegal) makes headlines, prescription drug costs vary substantially even across town. "It pays to compare," Stroh said. "Call local pharmacies to ask about drug costs before filling a prescription, or check online." For example, Costco (www. costco. com), publishes an online price list for all prescription medications carried by its pharmacies.

2. Avoid the ER. For non-life - or limb-threatening emergency situations, ask a physician if an urgent care facility offers appropriate treatment. In Los Angeles, for instance, an ER visit costs an average of $380, while an urgent care visit costs $50. Additionally, unnecessary ER visits – for conditions such as stitches, flu or splinting a finger – strain the nation’s health care system. (In a true emergency, always call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.)

3. Get tested cheaply. Many communities host clinics or health fairs that offer free or low-cost health screenings. Take advantage of “one-stop shopping” for blood pressure checks, blood screenings, and even take-home prostate exams. "But don't forget to bring the results to your regular physician to discuss treatment options and have the results included in your medical record," Stroh added.

4. Lose weight. A 2004 Kaiser Permanente study found medical costs decreased by $850 during the first year after obese health plan members lost 5 percent of their body weight. At a minimum, work not to gain weight – the average American gains 20 to 30 pounds in the 20 years after high school. An easy guideline: Health risks seem to increase when people weigh more than 22 pounds over their weight at age 18.

5. Shop around. Before undergoing a major medical procedure, compare fees and outcomes. A site such as www. healthgrades. com provides costs of medical care at various facilities so consumers can negotiate care and pay less. The same site rates facilities on their outcomes, which affect total cost: A successful procedure ultimately costs less than one with many complications.

6. File it. Keep accurate records of all medical expenditures. "If you have many health expenses, when tax season rolls around, you might qualify for the medical tax deduction," Stroh explained. (Check with a tax advisor or visit www. irs. gov to learn more.)

7. Buy just the coverage you need. Those who are healthy and don’t need much medical care might benefit from higher-deductible health plans. To make the most of these plans, pair the plan with a health savings account (HSA), available to individuals as well as employees. Each year, HSA owners can stash funds up to the amount of their deductible in a tax-advantaged account. Medical costs are paid from that account with pre-tax funds. Health insurance research information is available at http://www. bills. com/healthinsurance/ (http://www. bills. com/healthinsurance/).

"Clearly, many options are available for consumers to help control their own health care costs," said Stroh. "Choose the ones that will work best for you – and make the most of your budget and your well-being."

Based in San Mateo, Calif., Bills. com is a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about complex personal finance issues and save money by choosing the best-value products and services. Since 2002, Bills. com’s partner company, Freedom Financial Network, has provided consumer debt resolution services, serving more than 10,000 customers nationwide and managing more than $250 million in consumer debt. The company’s co-founders and CEOs, Andrew Housser and Brad Stroh, were recently named Northern California finalists in Ernst & Young’s 2006 Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.