10 Ways to Cut Health Care Costs
These freebies can save you money and improve your health
IT DOESN'T SEEM FAIR: Not only do you spend time dealing with the various aggravations of having diabetes—extra doctor visits, carbohydrate counting, and constant vigilance—but you also end up spending some serious cash on your condition. So here's the good news: With a little know-how, you can save big bucks on screenings, supplies, and preventive treatments. Read on to learn 10 ways to keep more money in your wallet.
For 15 more ways to save money on health care, click here.
1. Learn something new.
When it comes to managing your diabetes, knowledge is priceless. Free education? Even better. For starters, call the American Diabetes Association (ADA) at 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383); a representative will answer your questions, point you to helpful resources, and provide you with free packets of information on living with diabetes. Check your local hospital's event calendar for no-cost classes aimed at teaching you more about diabetes, nutrition, exercise, and general wellness. Recently, the Cleveland Clinic featured a seminar about diabetes in the news; Duke Medical Center offered tips on finding trustworthy health information online; the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia ran a lecture on healthy eating with diabetes; and the Washington Hospital Healthcare System in California provided a seminar on stroke prevention.
2. Get screened.
Preventing diseases and catching health worries before they become major problems are keys to keeping future medical costs low. Your doctors should screen you regularly for retinopathy and nephropathy, and should examine your feet to prevent problems. But local health departments, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, sports teams, colleges, and pharmacies often sponsor health care screenings. Walgreens, for example, has teamed up with AARP for an across-the-country Wellness Tour that provides free blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, body mass index, and body composition screenings. CVS Minute Clinics (available in some CVS stores) offer one free screening per visit for high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, or obesity. Some medical groups offer specific screenings, like the American Academy of Dermatology's free skin cancer screenings. The nonprofit Screening for Mental Health provides a roundup of free screenings across the country
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3. Head to a health fair or expo.
Hospitals, universities, churches, towns, and other organizations set up health fairs throughout the year that provide a range of screenings and health information. Some fairs are sponsored by area businesses, like grocery stores and health clinics, which may be on hand to pass out information or give short presentations. Similar to health fairs but much larger in scale, health expos bring together medical experts and exhibitors for screenings, seminars, workshops, and demonstrations. At ADA's Diabetes EXPO, you can browse new products, talk with experts, listen to lectures about diabetes and its related complications, catch a cooking demonstration, take part in a fitness class, and get free health screenings. For an event in your area, go to diabetes.org/expo. For American Diabetes Month—November—there will be a listing of ADA-sponsored fairs available at diabetes.org/adm.
4. Join a clinical trial.
Insulin and aspirin, hip replacements and bypass surgery—they've all been tested in clinical trials, research studies on human volunteers. Participate in a clinical trial and you may receive free, cutting-edge medical care and access to top researchers. Each trial has its own criteria for participation; one study may focus only on people with type 2 diabetes, another may include those with type 1, and still others may specify participants' age or treatment history. Some trials test treatments like medications, surgical techniques, and new therapies. Others focus on disease prevention or screening. You may be asked to take medication, complete surveys, participate in an exercise program, or follow a specific diet. Some clinical trials pose no risk to participants—for example, those that require only information, such as surveys of health behaviors—but others may have potential dangers, such as side effects from a medication or treatment. (All participants are free to quit at any time.) Some studies provide pay for expenses like travel, so ask before you sign up. Other key questions to ask: How long will the trial last? Is long-term, follow-up care part of the study? What are the possible risks? If you and your doctor decide it's OK for you to join a trial, you can visit the Center for Information & Study on Clinical Research Participation for more information about the process, then check out a list of current opportunities.
5. Attend a cooking demo.
If you're more Chef Boyardee than chef de cuisine come mealtime, you may benefit from a cooking demonstration, which will help you prepare healthy meals at home. Your local grocery store or farmers' market may have free cooking demos. Seattle's Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance sponsors demonstrations by restaurant chefs, and many Whole Foods stores host local and celebrity chefs. Other organizations, like hospitals, universities, and neighborhood shops, may offer the occasional free class. Foster's Homeware in Philadelphia, for example, provides free cooking demos with city chefs every Saturday. And West Virginia University's Extension Service offers a Dining With Diabetes program that includes three free cooking demos.
6. Make the most of your insurance plan.
Some plans have specific diabetes programs with free benefits, like Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield's Diabetes Health Education program, which offers menus, recipes, medication tracking cards, and pedometers in addition to waiving deductibles on some supplies. Cigna's Well Aware for Diabetes program reminds members of upcoming screenings and important tests, connects them to a group of nurses for support, and provides newsletters about diabetes management. Kaiser Permanente has a Manage Diabetes With Care program that uses an online questionnaire to create a program tailored to each member's health and needs; the personalized plan is accessed online so members can track their progress and work toward their health goals. And if you have United HealthCare, ask your human resources department about its new Diabetes Health Plan. This add-on to your coverage provides free diabetes screenings as well as no co-pay on select supplies, various doctor visits, and diabetes-related medications like specified insulins, oral type 2 medications, statins, and ACE inhibitors. The plan also helps you track your preventive tests, and will alert you when it's time for another checkup. To remain enrolled, you'll need to follow the required guidelines—get regular A1C tests, participate in preventive screenings, meet regularly with your primary care doctor, and complete health risk assessments. Your employer will pay more to include the Diabetes Health Plan in your regular United HealthCare package, but your own cost won't budge.
7. Use it or lose it.
It's easy to ignore the merits of a flexible spending account during the yearly benefits enrollment crunch. If you've passed up the program before, take note: Flexible spending accounts can save you hundreds of dollars each year. The accounts are part of a Section 125 Cafeteria Plan, a benefit program paid for by an employer that may cover health insurance, vision and dental care, life insurance, and disability insurance on a pretax basis. Flexible spending accounts allow you to set aside, before income tax is withheld, a sum of money to be used for prescription co-pays, doctor visits, over-the-counter medications, diabetes supplies like meters and test strips, physical therapy, and glasses, among other products and services. Your employer will deduct that amount from your salary at a steady rate every pay period, but all of the money is yours to use as soon as the new year begins. Since the money is taken out of your pay before taxes, you're taxed on a smaller salary. For example, a person who makes $60,000 per year and sets aside $4,000 in a flexible spending account can save about $1,100 in taxes in one year (because taxable income is reduced to $56,000). How much you set aside is up to you, though many employers set a spending cap of about $5,000. The catch? It must be spent before year's end.
8. Get moving.
Exercise can always be free—just lace up your shoes and go for a walk, run, jog, or hike. State and local parks and recreation departments may sponsor fitness events, such as Idaho's kayak and canoe races at Winchester Lake State Park or Oregon's guided hikes in the Tryon Creek State Natural Area. The Town of Duck, N.C., offers free morning yoga, tai chi, and Pilates classes; New York City's Bryant Park hosts weekly yoga and tai chi; and Boston's Courageous program provides free youth sailing jaunts in the harbor. Other places to look for free fitness classes or events: hospitals, universities, and local organizations. Many yoga studios treat customers gratis to a first class. The meditative exercise is a good way to build strength while shaking off the day's stress—an important part of managing your blood glucose. Though typical classes can take a major bite out of your paycheck, some studios offer a special series of complimentary yoga. Look to athletic wear shops, too; the national yoga-wear store Lululemon hosts free yoga classes.
9. Get paid to get fit.
You're motivated enough to reorganize your linen closet but don't have the drive to walk around the block. Sound familiar? If so, an incentive program might motivate you to better your health. Virgin Health Miles is an employer-sponsored program that lets you track your daily steps and redeem them for cash or gift cards at more than 50 national chains like Target, Best Buy, and Kohl's. The program is only offered through employers at this time (so ask yours to get on board), but an individuals-only plan is in the works. Some insurance plans include an incentive program, like Humana Rewards, which awards goods and gift cards to participants who complete health assessments, enroll in health coaching, and visit a doctor for preventive care. Ask your insurer if it offers such a plan; if not, check with your employer. Many companies offer their own wellness plans that trade healthy behaviors for prizes or money. Grocery chain Safeway, for instance, reduces employees' insurance premiums—a savings of up to $780 for a single person—when they maintain a healthy weight, quit smoking, and keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels in line.
10. Harness the power of the Web.
The Internet is full of freebies, and while it's not smart to believe every deal in cyberspace, you can find no-fee programs to help you better manage your diabetes. Case in point: ADA's My Food Advisor allows you to search for and create nutritious meals. Browse more than 5,000 foods by type—fruits, soups, desserts, etc.—or search for food items based on nutrition information (like those with fewer than 15 grams of carbohydrate per serving). The site lets you search recipes (even restaurant meals) and file them in a virtual recipe box. Add multiple food items to your "shopping list," and the software will calculate the total amount of calories, fat, carbohydrate, sodium, fiber, and a host of vitamins and minerals.
Once you start saving money on health, you may find it easier to cut costs in other areas of your life. Family game night can be just as fun as—and much cheaper than—a weekly visit to the movie theater. Eating home-cooked meals instead of restaurant dinners can dramatically slash your food bill. And, in the end, you'll start to notice that many of your best money-saving tricks have health payoffs, too