Act differently for affordable care

03/25/2014 8:00 AM

03/25/2014 9:32 AM

No matter what you think of the Affordable Care Act (https://www.healthcare.gov/), today’s insurance marketplace offers a number of opportunities to save money.

You just have to start thinking like you do when making decisions for any other purchase. Medical care really shouldn’t be any different. If anything, even more consideration and forethought should go into your coverage, because the negative consequences could have a devastating and lasting impact on your financial life!

Think of it this way — when you or your child is sick or injured, it’s not the time to comparison shop. During times of crisis, knowing you or your loved ones are adequately covered can help you focus on the more important tasks at hand, such as recovering, or making the other arrangements that life demands.

So here are a few tips to ensure you get the care, services and supplies you need without paying more than you should:

Avoid the ER whenever possible

Think of emergency room care like an airline ticket you have to buy just before your flight departs. The price can be up to five times higher than a regular doctor visit. Of course some conditions, like a broken leg, are ER all the way. But you might be surprised at what an urgent care or retail health clinic can treat (http://www.bcbs.

com/why-bcbs/immediate-medical-care/alternatives-to-emergency.html).

Weekends and after hours make it difficult or impossible to see your pediatrician or primary care physician. Many hospitals and a growing number of private providers offer urgent care services with more flexible hours, in locations ranging from medical centers to strip malls. Using one of these instead of the nearest ER can save you big bucks.

True story: I used to get strep throat about three times a year for six years! I would go to my doctor (at $100-plus per visit), get an antibiotic prescribed ($25 co-pay each time), and repeat the process. One time, I couldn’t get an appointment with my doctor and tried the Minute Clinic at my local CVS (http://www.minuteclinic.com/). The nurse practitioner there asked me several questions, got my complete health history, and suggested I see an ENT about getting my tonsils removed. I did and haven’t had strep since. Sometimes preventive costs not only save you money, but add to your quality of life!

Ask a nurse

Many health insurance plans and even some hospitals have “Ask a Nurse” services, either online or over the phone. Sometimes getting a simple question answered by an experienced nurse can save you the cost of a doctor’s office or emergency room visit. Maybe you don’t need stitches after all, or your child’s condition isn’t as urgent as you thought.

Ask for a quote, or a discount

Prices for the same treatments can vary widely among providers. If you have the time, take a few minutes to call or go online for quotes. If you’re short on cash or have a high insurance deductible, don’t be embarrassed to tell them. They may agree to lower the fee or suggest less-costly treatment options. If nothing else, most healthcare providers will work with you to set up very manageable payment plans to fit your budget.

Indeed, healthcare is a different animal than most things we pay for, but that doesn’t mean we should think about it any differently than other expenses. I’ll bet you’ve researched your options with cable TV or your cell phone. Do the same for something much more important and expensive.

Kat's Money Corner is posted on Dollars Sense every Tuesday. Kat Hnatyshyn, when not blogging or caring for her little one, is a manager with CommunityAmerica Credit Union. For more financial chatter, click http://twitter.com/savinmavens.

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