When the Economy Is Not
By Carolyn M.
November 5, 2008
If you’re looking
for ways to save money on health care, you’re
not alone: One in three Americans say they’ve
had problems paying their medical bills in the
past year, a
new study finds. And 18 percent of Americans
said their medical bills were higher than
To cope in
today’s bad economy, it seems that people may be
taking shortcuts with their health care. For
instance, I’ve read about people who stop taking
medicines they need to control a chronic
condition, skip appointments with their doctors,
or postpone surgery to save money.
As a physician, I
worry when I hear these stories. I’m concerned
that patients may feel they have to make these
decisions on their own. If you find yourself in
this situation, consider talking to your doctor,
nurse, or pharmacist. These medical
professionals can advise patients about steps
they can take that won’t harm their long-term
health. But, I also understand that for many
people, today’s economy is forcing them to make
difficult choices. Paying for medicine that may
prevent an illness tomorrow might not seem as
crucial as other needs.
should be very careful about treating their
health care expenses in the same way as other
expenses. Cutting back on health care?especially
without consulting your doctor?is a risky
decision. Over time, it could lead to bad
results for your health and even for your
With that caution
in mind, there are some steps you can take to
make sure you are getting the best health care
value you can. For example:
your employer offers health insurance,
compare your options to make sure you are
choosing the best plan for your needs.
Talk to your company’s benefits manager or
your insurance company to make sure you
understand your coverage. Switch to your
spouse’s plan if it’s more affordable and
still meets your needs. If they are
available, use flexible spending accounts,
which are a type of savings plan that allows
you to put aside money to pay for
out-of-pocket expenses with pre-tax dollars.
you don’t have health insurance, find out
about free or discounted care policies at
your local hospital or community-based
clinic. Many hospitals get payments
that offset some of the costs of caring for
people who don’t have health insurance.
Policies vary from hospital to hospital, but
research shows that health centers at
universities give more free care than
community hospitals. Many communities have
clinics that offer care for reduced fees, or
adjust their fees depending on patients’
you need prescription medicine, ask your
doctor if you can switch to the generic
Food and Drug Administration requires
generic drugs to have the same quality,
strength, and purity as brand-name drugs.
They are cheaper because the manufacturer
did not invest the money to develop the
Check discount big-box stores for savings on
your generic medicines. These
stores have online pharmacies where you can
compare prices and make your purchase.
Because these stores buy in large
quantities, you may be able to get your
prescription filled cheaply.
out if you qualify for a patient assistance
program. Drug companies set up
these programs that offer free or low-cost
drugs to people who are unable to pay for
their medications. All of the major drug
companies have these programs, but their
coverage policies vary. The
RxAssist Web site is a good place to
find out more about how these programs work
and whether you qualify.
up-to-date on routine screening tests that
can catch disease early when it is easier to
treat. For many people, wellness
checks, such as cancer screenings and blood
pressure checks, are important practices
that should not be skipped. Checklists from
the U.S Preventive Services Task Force can
women which tests they need.
Continue (or begin) healthy, daily habits
that can stave off illness and disease.
Being physically active, eating a healthy
diet, keeping at a healthy weight, and
drinking alcohol in moderation are all smart
paths to good health.
require you to think ahead. Some may require you
to explore options you’d rather not have to. But
in the long run, these can help you hang on to
an asset that even a failed bank can’t take
away: your health.
I’m Dr. Carolyn
Clancy, and that’s my advice on how to navigate
the health care system.
for Healthcare Research and Quality
Men: Stay Healthy at Any Age?Your Checklist
for Healthcare Research and Quality
and Drug Administration
Women: Stay Healthy at Any Age?Your
Checklist for Health
Center for Drug Evaluation and Research
Generic Drugs: Questions and Answers
Patient Assistance Program Center
Growing Number of Americans Report Problems
Paying Medical Bills and Delaying and Skipping
Care Due to Costs
Hospital Pricing Behavior and Financial
Risk, Testimony before Committee on Ways and
Means, June 22, 2004
Current as of November 2008
Keeping Healthy When the Economy Is Not.
Navigating the Health Care System: Advice
Columns from Dr. Carolyn Clancy, November 5,
2008. Agency for Healthcare Research and
Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/cc/cc1105108.htm