Save money, stay healthy

From doctor’s visits to prescription drugs to copays and premiums, the amount of money you spend on healthcare every year can feel endless. Luckily, a little comparison shopping and smart detective work can net significant savings. Here are 11 ways to keep a little more cash in your pocket.

If your doctor prescribes a drug, ask if there’s a suitable generic alternative. “There are a lot of plans that will charge a significantly greater copay if you use a brand name drug versus a generic,” says Martin Rosen, author of “The Healthcare Survival Guide.” He says, “Taking the generic can be a big, big savings.”

You may also want to ask if there’s an over-the-counter alternative, especially if it’s a supplement, like a prenatal vitamin or iron pill, or medication for a gastrointestinal problem.

“Some 61 percent of people who went to a doctor and asked for a discount actually got something,” says Rosen. “That’s a remarkable number.”

If you’ve been a loyal patient and your finances are tight, don’t be afraid to ask if your doctor or healthcare provider can cut you a break on an office visit charge or a procedure cost. You might be surprised.

“Around 20 percent of people never fill a prescription they get from their doctor,” says Larry Boress, president of the Midwest Business Group on Health. “Half of them don’t take it correctly, and half don’t refill it.”

Failure to follow your doctor’s orders could land you right back in the hospital, racking up yet another medical bill.

You may not think twice about filling your prescriptions at the pharmacy down the street, but maybe you should. Call around to see what other pharmacies are charging for the same drug. You may end up with some significant savings.

“It’s definitely worth your while,” Boress says. And don’t forget about the big box stores, such as Target and Wal-Mart, which offer extremely low prices on generic prescriptions.

Websites like Healthcare Bluebook can also be helpful when trying to find the best healthcare prices.

Has your doctor recommended an MRI or a lab test? Before you trek down to the suggested facility, call a few other testing sites to see what they would charge you for the procedure.

“There is a wide variation of pricing for the same procedure across the country and even within a given ZIP code,” Rosen says. “Depending on where the service is done, it could be significantly less expensive.”

If you take prescription drugs on a regular basis, such as birth control or cholesterol drugs, find out if your health insurance offers a mail-order option. You’ll typically receive a 90-day supply for much less than you’d pay at the pharmacy.

If you’re taking a brand name drug regularly, check the drug maker’s website to see if they offer a coupon or discount card that will reduce how much you have to pay. “It’s amazing how many manufacturers do that now,” Boress says.

According to the Medical Billing Advocates of America, about 80 percent of medical bills contain errors. And doctors’ offices and labs aren’t exempt from making mistakes. It’s in your best interest to eyeball your paperwork before writing a check. Don’t be afraid to call your doctor or the hospital billing department to clarify a charge, and make sure you’re persistent.

A high-deductible health plan requires you to pay a higher out-of-pocket deductible before your insurance coverage kicks in. However, monthly premiums are usually much lower than traditional health plans, and if you only see your doctor once or twice a year, you may save money with this option. It’s worth your time to do the math before you cross it off your list. Just make sure you have the cash on hand to cover the deductible if you do end up needing significant care.

A flexible spending account (FSA) allows you to put aside pretax dollars that you can use toward medical expenses throughout the year. The pretax deduction lowers your taxable income, reducing the amount you’ll owe on April 15. If your employer offers an FSA and your healthcare costs are fairly predictable, you should take advantage of it. Just remember that you’ll forfeit any money you don’t use by the end of the year, so it doesn’t pay to get overeager.

One of the best ways to stay out of the doctor’s office, and keep copays in your wallet, is to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“It doesn’t matter what age you are,” Boress says. “If you’re walking every day and eating smaller portions, you’ll tend to stay healthy.”

Go outside for a quick stroll. You’ll feel better, and it could save you money on healthcare.

For more ways to improve the quality of your healthcare, visit Healthline’s Guide to Consumer Healthcare. You can learn how to make sense of your health insurance options, find out what the Affordable Care Act really means for your family, and discover how to choose a doctor that’s right for you.