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Bottom Line/Health Secrets: "Healthcare for Less
How to Cut Costs of Heart Disease, Cancer, Diabetes and Other Chronic Conditions
David Nganele, PhD
Solutions to Healthcare
Chronic disease can be financially devastating even for someone who has health insurance. Benefit limits often are reached before the condition is under control.
People without insurance may be forced to borrow money or sell assets when faced with such conditions as recurring cancers, heart disease, depression and diabetes.
Making lifestyle changes -- quitting smoking, improving your diet and exercising --can reduce the need for medication for many conditions. In addition, sufferers can eliminate some costs entirely by understanding how hospitals, drug companies and doctors do business. Most effective cost-saving strategies...
Become an expert. Learning all you can about your illness may help you discover lower-cost treatments and aspects of the condition that even your doctor may not know about. You'll also benefit psychologically from putting yourself in charge instead of relying solely on your doctor.
Contact associations specializing in your condition. They can help you to locate low-cost treatment centers and suggest ways to prevent your condition from worsening. Example: Adding supplemental chromium, magnesium and vanadium to your diet may help with diabetes.
Investigate alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and biofeedback. Many now are covered by insurance. Even if they're not, they may cost less and be more effective than conventional treatments. For information, contact the federal government's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at 888-644-6226, www.nccam.nih.gov.
Buy drugs in large quantities to save on copayments. Most insurers charge a copayment for each prescription, regardless of the drug's cost. Copayments today can be as high as $50.
Ask your doctor to write 90-day prescriptions, instead of 30-day. You will reduce your copayment by two-thirds.
Ask your doctors for free samples.
Take part in a clinical trial.
When you are hospitalized, put your primary-care physician in charge. Doctors who are unfamiliar with your health history might recommend costly, unnecessary procedures.
Primary physicians, as a rule, recommend fewer procedures than other doctors at a hospital. Your primary doctor already is familiar with your condition and may have tried a variety of treatments for you in the past.
You even might ask your primary physician to help check your hospital bill for inaccuracies. As a patient with a chronic illness, you need to be vigilant about not reaching insurance policy limits sooner than necessary.
Consider treatment at a teaching or government-run hospital or clinic. These institutions usually charge patients according to their ability to pay. They can make sense for people with limited incomes, especially those who lack insurance or have passed their insurance limit. Information: Health Resources and Services Administration, 800-400-2742. www.hrsa.gov.
Negotiate with the hospital and other providers. Pay what you can now, and work out a payment plan for the rest. Or ask for a fee reduction. A hospital or doctor nearly always will compromise because reducing the bill may be cheaper than paying a collection agency or not collecting at all.
Get the opinion of more than one doctor before any procedure. Second opinions increase your chance of finding less expensive --and perhaps more effective --treatment.