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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 

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 

What to Look for in the New Nutrition Labels

Shopping for healthy food just got a whole lot easier.
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As a youngster, breakfast was always a favorite time of day. My siblings and I would convince Mom to buy all kinds of cereal, often based on the prize inside or the Saturday cartoon commercials. The kitchen table would be cluttered with boxes and, after we poured our selections, I’d build a small fortress around my bowl, where I’d read up on the games and offers on the back of each box.

One thing we didn’t do was read the nutritional label.  Actually, there wasn’t one in those days.

Nutritional labeling began in the early 1970s, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a format that would appear on packaged foods. Compliance was voluntary, except when the manufacturer made nutrition claims or added nutrients.

The Nutrition Facts we know today debuted in 1993 after the passage of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) of 1990. The law gave the FDA authority to mandate packaged foods labeling and require that certain claims be consistent with regulations.

Consumers paid attention. In a study conducted about a year after the law went into effect, nearly half of participants said they changed their minds about buying a certain food because they read the nutrition label.

Still, certain diet-related health problems, like obesity and diabetes, have continued to grow worse. The food industry is often blamed as contributing to unhealthy eating.

Since many grocery shoppers look to nutrition labels for guidance (in the FDA’s 2014 Health and Diet Survey, 77% of Americans said they checked nutrition labels at least some of the time when buying a certain food), updating the labels became a focal point for change. In May 2016, the FDA unveiled a revised Nutritional Facts panel, which food companies will roll throughout 2017; nearly all manufacturers will need to comply by late July 2018.

Look for changes in these areas:

Clearer design

  • Calorie information, serving size, and servings per container are all emphasized in big, bold print.
  • An explanation of Daily Value, the percentage one serving provides of how much you need each day of a given nutrient to stay healthy

Updated nutrition information

  • “Added Sugars” are called out in both actual amounts and Daily Value
  • Nutrient lists include Vitamin D and potassium, in addition to the already required iron and calcium
  • “Calories from Fat” is gone, but total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat remain
  • Updated daily values for sodium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D
  • Actual amounts of Vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium, in addition to the Daily Value

More realistic serving sizes

  • Servings sizes are changing based on how people actually eat, rather than how they should. For instance, a serving size of soda is changing from 8 ounces to 12 ounces, and ice cream from 1/4 pint to 1/3 pint.
  • For packages that contain between one and two serving sizes, calories and other nutritional information will be displayed as one serving, since most people are likely to consumer the entire portion in one sitting
  • Dual column labels will reflect both the “per serving” and “per package” values on some products that can be eaten in one sitting, but contain more than one standard serving (think a large bag of chips or box of cookies).

Bottom line: There’s a lot to know about smart nutrition, and reading food labels is one important part. Eat a variety of foods and know your basic food facts: what to avoid, what to have in small portions, and what to enjoy more frequently.

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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 

7 Symptoms You Should Never Ignore At Work

Know when to act and what to do
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Not surprisingly, a reported 65% of those US employees with low-paying jobs often go to work sick. The number for professionals and high-income employees is only slightly better at 48%. One risk is that sick and contagious employees will infect their coworkers, leading to a greater decrease in productivity. Even more terrifying, an employee who thinks they may just be suffering from a cold or the flu may come to work and have to deal with an even more serious health event.

Here are 7 symptoms that should never be ignored at work. If you’re not sure if your employee or coworker is dealing with something serious, be safe and don’t wait—call 911.

1. Chest pain doesn’t always mean a heart attack, but don’t take any chances. Some heart attacks come on suddenly, while others start slowly. Get help right away if someone feels a tightness or squeezing in the center of their chest that lasts for a more than a few minutes or stops and comes back again. They may feel pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or one or both arms. They may be short of breath—with or without chest pain—or feel dizzy, sweaty, or sick to your stomach. Call 911 (don’t try to drive yourself is you are having chest pains) if you think someone may be having a heart attack and get the person to the hospital.

2. Sudden shortness of breath. Many types of work can lead to someone feeling out of breath, but sudden shortness of breath for no obvious reason can be a sign of something more serious, like a blood clot in the lungs, collapsed lung, or heart attack. Call 911 if someone you work with can’t catch their breath.

3. Sudden, intense headaches that come on out of the blue are often called thunderclap headaches. The pain usually peaks within one minute. Some people feel faint or sick to their stomach. Many thunderclap headaches are life-threatening, so call 911 right away if someone at work is having one. It could mean dangerous bleeding in or around the brain, or another problem with the brain’s blood supply.

4. Sudden confusion. We’ve all had that where’d-I-just-put-my-keys feeling. But it’s important to call 911 if someone becomes confused rapidly. It could be caused by fever, stroke, low blood sugar, or many other reasons. Watch for cold, clammy skin, faintness or dizziness, a fast pulse, headache, or fast or slow breathing. Check also to see if the confused person has diabetes or has had a brain injury.

5. Sudden or severe belly pain. Most stomach problems like indigestion or gas usually go away in a few hours. But belly pain can sometimes be serious. Take someone to an emergency room if they have severe belly pain, especially if they:

  • could be pregnant
  • also have a fever
  • have pain in the back, chest, neck, or shoulder
  • are vomiting blood or have bloody diarrhea
  • feel stiffness or tenderness in their stomach area

6. Flashes of light. Someone “seeing stars” or light flashes should see a doctor right away. These could be signs of a detached or torn retina, a serious problem that can lead to blindness if it’s not treated early and an especially risky condition to have at work. Some people also see flashes of light before a migraine headache. In very rare cases, light flashes can be a sign of cancer.

7. Signs of stroke. Think F.A.S.T and watch for:

  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech problems
  • Time to call 911: If someone shows any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately, even if the symptoms stop. The sooner you get help, the better chances the person will have of surviving.
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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