You’ve probably figured out by now that times these days are a little less kind to your wallet. Many people find themselves considering scaling back on things like health insurance and prescriptions in order to better balance their budget.
But this is a mistake – no matter how tight money is, you need to take care of your health. Why? Because, ironically, not doing so can actually be the most expensive choice of all.
See Your Doctor Regularly
Keep up to date on screenings. Mammograms, cholesterol level checks, and colonoscopies can catch serious problems. If medical conditions are caught early, they can be less complicated to treat and, as a result, less expensive.
Keeping up with treatment, medication, and healthy habits is especially important if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease. Why? This can keep your health from getting worse and requiring more costly treatment.
Get Your Shots to Prevent Illness
Vaccines aren’t just for kids. Immunizations can help keep you and your loved ones healthy. Most vaccines are covered by insurance — and many are affordable without it. Plus, they save you the cost of medical care, treatment, and sick days off work by preventing illness.
Talk to your doctor or another medical professional to find out which shots you should get to prevent illness.
Cut Prescription Drug Costs
Ask your doctor if you could safely split some of your pills. If so, your doctor can prescribe a higher-dose, and have you take 1/2 a pill at a time to save money. Or you may be eligible for drug company “prescription assistance” programs.
Shop for low prices. Mail-order pharmacies may offer 3 months worth of a drug for a discounted price. Doctors can sometimes offer free samples.
Embrace a Healthy Lifestyle
Healthy habits like eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep can decrease your risk of disease and illness. If you smoke, consider quitting. Overweight? By becoming more active you may help cut your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.
Open a Flexible Spending Account (FSA)
FSAs cut costs by saving you taxes. Pre-tax money is taken from your pay and put into an account for you to spend on health care not covered by insurance. Put only what you’ll spend on medicine and co-pays in your FSA. Save receipts to prove you’re meeting FSA rules, in case asked. Spend all your FSA money before the year is up. What you don’t use, you lose!
Preserve Coverage with Low-Cost Plans
A “catastrophic” or “high-deductible” insurance plan can be a cheap option if you’re healthy. Bought through your employer or on your own, monthly payments are low. But you and your family may pay $5,000 or more of medical bills out of pocket before insurance pays.
Save for Emergencies
Broken or lost glasses. A chipped tooth. Emergencies can and do happen. And putting medical bills on high-interest credit cards can bury you in debt.
Starting an emergency medical fund can help. Sock away $100 or $200 a month into savings. Most banks will let you set up automatic deposits online. Can’t afford that much? Put aside what you can to help lessen debt from an unexpected bill.
Pick Only Necessary Procedures
Sometimes you are offered products or procedures that are not medically necessary.
Beware the up sell on teeth whitening at the dentist, or new frames from the optometrist, or a neck adjustment at the chiropractor. These often aren’t covered by insurance.
Take Care of Your Teeth
Get a dental checkup and regular cleanings. It costs about $200 to fill a cavity caught early. Untreated, you may later need a root canal, which can cost $2,000 for the operation and crown.
Laid off? Try COBRA
The hitch? Cost. Before, your company likely paid part of your premium. Under COBRA, you pay the whole cost, plus a 2% fee. Laid off since late 2008? Financial help may be available, visit http://www.dol.gov/cobra.
Or ask an insurance agent about a short-term individual policy. They can cover you a month at a time and may be cheaper than COBRA.
Help When You’re Uninsured
Community health clinics often offer some health care at reduced cost or for free based on your income. Contact your local health department. If you have a limited income and meet other requirements set by your state, you may be eligible for Medicaid coverage. Find your local Medicaid office at http://www.benefits.gov.
Get the Most from Doctor’s Visits
When you do go to the doctor, write down all your questions ahead of time. This can cut down on follow-up visits. Once there, ask your doctor to help you decide which care or procedures are really necessary, and which are elective.
Be sure your doctor understands your financial situation. Tell her if you’re thinking of skipping a procedure or dropping a medicine because of cost. She may be able to help you manage your medical care on a budget.