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14 Smart Ways to Save Money on Healthcare

Drowning in medical bills? These tips can help.
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My wife and I are generally pretty savvy shoppers. Well, she is – and I get the benefits. She clips coupons, looks for bargains, and buys certain items only when they’re BOGO (buy one, get one free). Why pay full price when you don’t have to?

In healthcare, we’ve rarely had that option. For a long time, the cost of a healthcare treatment or test didn’t even come up until after the bill came. For most of us, health insurance covered the majority of the cost, and our responsibility was limited to a small co-pay.

That’s changing now as the trend toward consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) grows, and many of us are spending more out of pocket. In 2016, nearly one-third of all employer-sponsored health plans were CDHPs.

As a result, patients are getting choosier. And as the healthcare system continues to evolve, we need to be more proactive. We need to get smart about where to go for care, how to pay, and how to prepare. These tips can help:

How to Save

Your primary care physician is likely your go-to source for most of your healthcare needs. But there are times you may want to consider these alternatives:

  • Some health plans offer telemedicine, which can give follow-ups, help manage chronic conditions, monitor medications, and provide other clinical services all through electronic communication. Depending on your condition, telemedicine can save you both time and money.
  • For problems that are serious but not life-threatening, such as a sprained ankle, bad cough, or fever, urgent care centers can be a good alternative to the emergency room. Be sure the center is in network for your insurance plan. Co-pays for visits should be listed on your insurance ID card or on the plan’s web portal or mobile app.
  • Websites like FAIR Health may help you figure out the costs of some medical care.
  • Teaching hospitals in some communities may offer discounts for certain medical needs.
  • For prescription drugs, ask your doctor or pharmacist if generic versions are available. They’re often a fraction of the cost of a brand-name medication.

How to Pay

Using credit cards to pay off big medical bills may be tempting, but it can add up to mountains of debt. Make sure you know your options:

  • If you have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), you can open and put money in a Health Savings Account (HSA) with pre-tax dollars. Many employers will contribute to your HSA as well. HSAs can be used for a wide range of healthcare expenses – from sunscreen to X-rays – and the balance carries over year to year.
  • With Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), you can use pre-tax dollars to pay for most healthcare-related products and services. Some FSAs operate on the “use it or lose it” rule, meaning you must spend all the money in your account by the end of each year or lose any remaining balance. There are exceptions, though, so check with your employer.
  • Hospitals and certain providers may consider payment plans for larger expenses. Be sure to ask about them if you anticipate big bills or find yourself with higher-than-expected costs.
  • Finally, keep in mind that most healthcare organizations will take into account your ability to pay. You may be able to negotiate some expenses, or they can suggest programs that can help out.

How to Prepare

Here’s the key to saving on healthcare: Do your homework. Costs for tests, procedures, and treatments can vary widely, regardless of where you live or what plan you use, so take these steps:

  • Choose the right plan based on your age, health history, and the care you expect you’ll need.
  • Be sure your provider is in-network.
  • Talk to others who’ve been through similar medical issues or procedures, and learn from their experiences.
  • Ask questions – not only about what to expect from the service, but about how much it will cost. Healthcare is one of the most expensive services we purchase, so don’t be shy about asking questions whenever your doctor recommends tests or procedures, or prescribes medications.
  • Be proactive: Practice good health habits, eat smart, exercise, and take advantage of free screenings, flu shots, and other preventive steps.

Paying for healthcare will never be like shopping for groceries. But as things continue to change, there will likely be more and more similarities – and in time, smart shoppers will get better deals.

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Frank Hone is a consumer marketing strategist who focuses on the business impact of engagement strategy for health and well-being improvement... read more 

Objective Versus Subjective Health Literacy

What You Know Versus What You Think You Know
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Mr. Garcia is a 65-year-old pre-diabetic patient. He’s just retired and moved to a new area. At his first visit with his new PCP, a nurse asks Mr. Garcia if he can usually understand a doctor’s instructions. “Absolutely,” he says. “I understand perfectly.”

But does he really?

Situations like this highlight the importance of distinguishing between two kinds of health literacy: subjective and objective. If doctors measure just one kind of health literacy, they may miss something.

Better understanding might allow Mr. Garcia to act sooner. He might get treatment or make healthier choices — and avoid diabetes. Smart changes now could mean avoiding the pain and expense of a chronic health problem later.

That’s why, when possible, it’s best to measure both subjective and objective health literacy.

Subjective Health Literacy: What You Think You Know

Subjective health literacy measures how health literate someone thinks they are. You can gauge subjective health literacy with questions like:

“How confident are you filling out medical forms by yourself?”

The nurse in the story above was measuring subjective health literacy, albeit informally. The questions don’t have objectively correct answers, which may be less threatening. It doesn’t feel like a test you’d take in school.

But there are disadvantages too. Patients often overestimate their own ability. And they may tell you what they think you want to hear—they may report strong health literacy even if they rarely understand or act on what a doctor tells them.

Objective Health Literacy: Measuring What You Know

A patient has to actually demonstrate knowledge to measure objective health literacy. One popular tool (The Newest Vital Sign) shows the patient a nutrition label, and asks how many calories they’d get by eating multiple servings, as well as other basic questions.

With objective health literacy, you know patients aren’t overestimating their own ability, or telling you what they think you want to hear. But because there are right and wrong answers, some patients feel like they’re back in school, and the memories aren’t always pleasant.

EdLogics’ Approach to Measuring Health Literacy

EdLogics measures — and strives to cultivate — both kinds of health literacy. We use only validated surveys. When we measure objective health literacy, we present questions a little differently, making them fun, adding graphics, and incorporating great design. It’s all gamified. You can win cash drawings — the more you play, the more likely you are to win.

Users do not feel like they’re back in school.

By measuring both types of health literacy, we put ourselves in the best position to understand how health literacy changes over time. This can help us further refine our suite of health literacy education games, and be even more effective in our mission to improve health literacy.

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Jerry Gulley currently serves as EdLogics’ Chief Content Officer. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and has held positions with Cooking Light, Health, and AllRecipes. 

10 Health Insurance Terms You Need to Know

Confused by health plan buzzwords? Here's a guide to the lingo.
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Health insurance plans can seem like they’re written in secret code. Between trying to decipher mysterious acronyms—like HSAs, FSAs, and HDHPs—and remembering your portal password, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But digging into the details is well worth the effort, says Scott Spann, a financial planner with Financial Finesse, a provider of workplace financial wellness benefits. “Many of the people we work with feel overwhelmed with the process of choosing the right health insurance plan options,” he says. “The majority of Americans are anxious about rising premiums and choosing the right type of coverage. But as high deductible healthcare plans continue to grow in popularity, it’s important to at least take time to understand the basics.” In fact, he adds, “failing to take the time to review your options can be a costly mistake.”

Can’t find your decoder ring? This primer can help you get started (EdLogics members can find more in the Glossary of Terms on our Health Insurance page.)

  1. Benefit: A treatment, test, or other healthcare that health insurance helps pay for.
  2. Co-payment: A fixed amount you pay for a doctor’s visit, medication, or other healthcare expense. You usually pay it when you have the visit or get the medication.
  3. Deductible: The amount you have to pay in a benefit year before your insurance kicks in. If your deductible is $2,000 and your first bill of the year is $3,000, then you would pay $2,000 of the bill, and your health plan would help pay for the rest.
  4. Drug formulary: A list of prescription medications a health plan helps pay for.
  5. Enrollment period: Period of time when people are allowed to sign up for a health plan. For many people, enrollment periods happen every November. You might be able to sign up at other times if you have a qualifying event, like losing a job or getting divorced.
  6. Health savings account (HSA): A special savings account that you put money in for healthcare costs. You don’t pay taxes on money in HSAs, so you can save money. HSAs are usually used with high-deductible health plans.
  7. High-deductible health plan (HDHP): Health insurance that costs less up front (lower premiums), but you pay for more of your healthcare costs before your insurance kicks in.
  8. Network: A group of doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare services that work with your health insurance. Health insurance covers more costs for healthcare in-network than out-of-network.
  9. Out-of-pocket: Healthcare costs your plan won’t pay for. You are responsible for paying these costs yourself.
  10. Premium: A fee you pay regularly for health insurance. Most people pay their premiums every month, but it can vary from company to company.
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Jerry Gulley currently serves as EdLogics’ Chief Content Officer. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and has held positions with Cooking Light, Health, and AllRecipes. 

5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Health Plan

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Let’s face it: Health insurance is complicated. And if you’re like many policy holders, you don’t have time to dig into every detail of your plan. Instead, most of us are content to know the basics, like our co-pay amounts and in-network providers. But with a little effort, you can uncover a lot of added value. Try these tips:

  1. Connect online. Most health plans provide members with a secure online portal and mobile app. You can use these to find general information about coverage and benefits, as well as details on recent doctor visits and other personalized health information. You might also be able to find out which doctors, urgent care centers, hospitals, and other facilities are in your network. It’s usually up to each member to enroll in the portal – so if you haven’t done so, go to your health plan’s website to learn how.
  2. Take advantage of discounts and rewards. Many plans offer discounts for gym memberships, massages, LASIK surgery and other health and wellness services. Some plans have programs that can help you save money on insurance premiums, or earn points for reaching certain wellness or fitness goals or completing online learning modules.
  3. Get free health checks and preventive care. Along with an annual flu shot, your health plan may cover screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index (BMI). You might also be able to get one-on-one meetings with a food expert for little or no cost. Some also offer health risk appraisals, an in-depth questionnaire that gives a more complete picture of your overall health. You may even be able to call a free health coach for ways to reduce your risk for certain conditions.
  4. Use hotlines, online programs, and other services. Ready to quit smoking – for real? Need to ask a nurse what to do for your child’s fever? Many plans offer services like quit-smoking coaches, nurse hotlines, online support groups, Internet-based wellness programs, and much more. Some plans provide free classes – virtually or in person – on topics like diabetes, asthma, heart disease, birth control, and breastfeeding. They may provide a tool to help you predict how much treatments will cost. Some offer special case management programs, which help guide you through the challenges of managing complex conditions. Your health plan might even give you access to telemedicine, so you can have a virtual doctor’s appointment for certain conditions through your computer or mobile device.
  5. Save money. As more people choose high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), managing out-of-pocket expenses becomes even more important. If you select an HDHP, you can enroll in a flexible savings account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA). Either one lets you use pre-tax dollars to pay for certain expenses, so you can save on healthcare costs by setting tax-free money aside before you need to use it. Pay attention during open enrollment – usually around November – because you may be able to make changes only once a year.

Your health plan may have other benefits as well. Be sure to ask questions during the enrollment period, and explore your plan’s website. The time you spend is well worth it.

 

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Frank Hone is a consumer marketing strategist who focuses on the business impact of engagement strategy for health and well-being improvement... read more 

10 Simple Ways to Fit in Fitness

How to make time for exercise—really!
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If it were possible to get “exercise credits” every time I thought about going for a run or hitting the gym, I’d be ready for the Olympics. Same for you?

With most people, the intention is there, but the motivation is missing. We know the health benefits of regular exercise, but it’s hard to get going.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association suggest at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. That works out to 30 minutes a day, five days a week. The good news: It’s OK to divide the time into two or three sessions of 10 to 15 minutes each day.

For years, I preferred longer workouts. Running was my mainstay; walking was for old folks. I’d run three or four miles a few times a week, especially on mornings when the scale reported a couple extra pounds. For extra motivation, I’d occasionally enter races to put me in training mode.

There’s a lot you can do to fit in exercise. Think you’re too busy? Here are 10 simple ways to make time to move. If you have questions about how much or what type of activity is right for you, be sure to ask your doctor—and together come up with a plan.

  1. Start your day sooner. Set your alarm 20 minutes earlier to get a quick workout in before breakfast. Walk the dog, or do some gentle yoga. It takes commitment, but you’ll feel great when you’re done—with the whole day still ahead. Of course, don’t let this cut into your sleep. If you wake up 20 minutes earlier, go to bed 20 minutes earlier.
  2. Mix up your commute. Ride your bike if you work nearby, get off the bus or subway a stop or two early, or park your car a few blocks away. See how creative you can be in adding movement to your morning and evening commutes.
  3. Make exercise part of work. Skip the conference room and schedule a walking meeting instead. Stand up during phone calls and work on your balance: Lift one foot an inch off the ground, hold for a few seconds, and switch. At lunchtime, ask a friend to walk a few blocks. And choose the stairs every chance you get.
  4. Stretch at your desk. It’s easy to get involved in a project and find yourself sitting for hours at a time. Set a reminder on your phone or computer to pause for a few minutes every hour to stand up and move around. Stretch your legs, do a few squats or lunges, reach for the sky, or take a quick walk.
  5. Find a buddy. Pair up with a friend for exercise. Pledge to get together for workout dates, and hold each other to it. Studies show exercising with a buddy can help keep you inspired and accountable. Mutual motivation can help reduce excuses.
  6. Join a team. If you like team sports like volleyball, softball, or tennis, find a local group and sign up. Belonging to a team creates a deeper level of commitment—it’s harder to skip practice when you know others are counting on you.
  7. Take a class. Most fitness centers and YMCAs offer a variety of spin, yoga, cardio, Pilates, and other types of classes. Many will offer a complimentary class for first-timers. Try one out and see if you get hooked.
  8. Enter a race. For non-runners or casual runners, an organized race can be intimidating, and many host fun runs and walks along with more serious events. Regardless of whether you are competing for a personal best time or just participating for fun, races can be great events. Sign up for one that’s appropriate for your fitness level, and work with a trainer to prepare.
  9. Take a 30-day challenge. There are lots of different types of online challenges these days. Planks and pushups are popular ones, and each are intended to encourage a daily activity that gets a little tougher each week. Look for a challenge you like—and see how well you do.
  10. Write down specific goals. Know exactly what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. Think about obstacles and make a plan to overcome them. Saying you’ll “exercise more next week” isn’t enough. Instead, write something like “next Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning, I’ll wake up at 5:45 a.m. and go to the 6:15 a.m. spinning class. I’ll be home in time to shower and leave for work.” The more specific your plan is, the better you’ll be able to reach your goals – and stick with them.
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Frank Hone is a consumer marketing strategist who focuses on the business impact of engagement strategy for health and well-being improvement... read more