Seeing that health care costs came in third (after housing and, ironically, (unhealthy) restaurant costs), I asked the Yakezie if they had any suggestions on how to reduce their health care costs. Dr Dean from the Millionaire Nurse Blog stepped up. Check out his blog for more on the intersection between health(care) and personal finance.

Personally, I found my current HDHP, which I pay $71 per month for, on (also see Frequently Asked Questions). I then max out my HSA and get $450 back in tax deductions. The total cost of my health insurance is thus $402 per year! DW has her health insurance separate from mine through her work like most people. Anyway, here’s the post …

Unlike the recent guest post by medicinesux, I have been the beneficiary of making a living at practicing medicine for 25 years. I have helped a lot of people along the way. Unlike many, I had no dreams of getting rich practicing medicine, I really did just want to help people, in a way that appealed to me. I chose to practice in a small town, close to relatives and don’t regret it.

Many of the negatives described by those writing and commenting on this blog about health care today are absolutely true. And, if someone told me I had an unlimited budget to “fix” the healthcare system in the US—I don’t think I could.

I think our problems are too endemic, and the politics are too complex. So we are destined to rock along, with band-aid like efforts for some time to come.

For that reason, today’s post is not about health care policies or politics, it is about saving money when it comes to your health.

Keeping more of your money in your pocket will allow you to reach your financial goals sooner. Whether that means quitting your job, and traveling, or just having more freedom to do what you want to do in your free time, while you continue your work doesn’t really matter.

So how can you save money on your health care?

Let’s divide this up into two categories.

  • Lifestyle/prevention
  • Acute care needs.

The best way to save money on health care is not to need any. Now you may say “I knew that and I didn’t have to go to school 12 years AFTER high school!” So if you knew it, why are you killing yourself everyday little by little (or in some cases: careening towards your death, like a blogger goes after a link?)

  • Are you resting 7-8 hours every night?
  • Are you eating a balanced diet, low in unhealthy fats, high in fiber, with liberal raw fruits and veggies?
  • Are you drinking alcohol excessively? More than one alcoholic beverage per day for females, two for men. (One drink is equal to one beer, one 5 oz glass of wine, or one mixed drink-measured) Also remember most restaurant drinks or at least a 1.5–2 shots, and wine glasses now sometimes hold 10–12 oz or more!
  • Are you exercising at least 30 minutes per day/5 days per week?
  • Are you minimizing your stress? We all have stress—it is what you do with it that counts. Pilates or Yoga, or brisk aerobic exercise are all great stress relievers. Journal keeping/reminding yourself what GOOD you did for others can also be effective.
  • Are you aware of special risk factors you have for illness (family history, or work related risk factors) and doing all you can to minimize your chance of following in your families’ footsteps? Or if work related-minimize risks as much as possible-such as proper ergonomics if you are at a keyboard 8 hours a day!
  • Are you keeping your weight in a healthy rangeBMI less than 25?
  • Do you follow established preventive medicine guidelines? Colonoscopy at 50,…..
  • Are you smoking?
  • Are you engaging in risky behavior—illegal drugs, or multiple sex partners? (One study suggested that between 40 and 47% of deaths are at least partially attributable to preventable causes or aggravation of illness by behavior.)

Acute Care Needs
Now, when you do get sick or need medical care-how can you save money?

  • Don’t go to the doctor or clinic for every sniffle. Buy a medical book for laymen, and read it all the way through. Then keep it handy for reference. The reasons to go or not go to the doc are too complicated to cover here, but excellent references are available.
  • Don’t listen to your friends and relatives for health care advice. I don’t know how many people with a cold tell me—“I just came to get my mother/husband/….off my back.
  • Choose your online resources’ carefully. Many people have an agenda. You don’t always know if your great holistic website was written by someone whose child died of leukemia—but the parents blame a small-pox vaccine or a plastic toy they got from Grandma.
  • HSA’s and high deductible health plansOthers have written on these pages about HSA’s tied to high deductible health plans, and other money saving health insurance options—so I won’t cover that here.
  • Negotiate with your medical provider. I know that may sound cheesy, and I can’t promise that some docs with an unhealthy, grand ego won’t throw you out of his/her practice- but I think it is worth asking.
  • Most practices now have to take huge discounts from the larger insurance providers such as United Healthcare or BCBS. They are now used to discounting fees-especially if you offer cash up front. The medical practice can save on collection worries, as well as assisting with their cash flow.
  • Negotiate with the hospital. When you get your bill, go visit a manager in the collection department, and ask—“I will pay half (or even less) the charged amount in cash today—will that wipe out this bill?”—many will take it and run.
  • Pre-visit/procedure negotiation. If you have no insurance—then definitely negotiate before any procedure with the doc and the facility—remind them that you will pay cash up front!
  • If broke-tell them you are broke-early. And always ask about indigent plans/financial support-but these days-those funds, if a facility has any available, are used up early in their fiscal year.
  • Ask the “If this was your momma?” question. If you do get seen by a medical practitioner, ask them if you were their mother would you get this same Rx filled or have (xyz) procedure done? That can help determine if the med or procedure was recommended just for CYA purposes as a liability hedge. (Do this in a respectful manner and you will usually get a respectful response.)

In summary, the health care system in our country is broken. The costs are only going to go up. I would strongly recommend “self-insuring” by having a Health Savings Account (if they don’t get outlawed by congress!) or a large liquid savings fund.

Know when to go to the doc and what it will cost. There are no stupid questions when it comes to your money-so write them down, and ask them in advance of receiving the care. (When you are ill, your mind doesn’t work very well-make lists in advance-both health questions and money questions.)

Do everything you can do, to live a healthy lifestyle, keep your weight and stress down, and your lifetime medical costs will be minimized -and your enjoyment of life will be maximized. Whether your retirement is early and extreme or late and run of the mill-your body will thank you for paying attention.

Originally posted 2010-06-15 12:52:07.