Five tips to help reduce health care costs

Do you fully understand what your doctor tells you during a checkup? If you don’t, you’re not alone.

A recent UnitedHealthcare study found that two out of three people don’t understand all their doctor’s instructions, diagnoses and recommendations. If that’s the case for you, it may not just affect your health — it could also impact your bank account. The Center for Health Policy Research at George Washington University found “inadequate health literacy” — not quite getting health-related information or what your doctor is telling you — can cost up to $238 billion annually in higher health care costs.

“Empowering yourself with knowledge about your health is key to maintaining or improving your well-being — and managing your health care costs,” said Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare’s commercial business. “Better understanding your conditions and treatments can help you make more informed decisions, which can support your physical, mental and financial health.”

Dr. Randall offers these tips to help bridge the knowledge gap and help you save money on health care.

  1. Make the most of your yearly checkup. Regular preventive visits are generally covered by your health insurance plan and can play a crucial role in early disease detection. That can be a win-win for your health and your pocketbook. That’s because identifying issues as early as possible may lead to more effective treatments and can also help avoid more costly services in the future. But here’s part of where that “understanding” piece is critical. Come to your doctor visit with a list of questions and let him or her know if you have any health concerns. Take notes to make sure you’re getting all the information you need and review them once you return home.
  2. Make sure you understand your plan and health care costs. Many health plans offer incentives that reward you for taking healthier actions, such as completing a health survey, exercising, or avoiding nicotine. It’s also important to understand your deductible, your out-of-pocket expenses, and other specifics of your health insurance plan, and budgeting for medical expenses. This glossary defines thousands of health care terms to help you make informed decisions. In addition, some health plans offer ways to help you comparison shop for care. For instance, millions of UnitedHealthcare members can comparison shop for care based on quality and cost information for more than 19,000 services, including online, via a mobile app or by calling a customer care advocate.
  3. Shop around for pharmacies. First make sure your pharmacy is in your insurance plan’s network; otherwise you might have to pay more for your prescriptions. Then, do some comparison shopping. You may be surprised at how much variance you’ll find from one pharmacy to another in terms of prices of the medications you may need. Also, investigate generic options for those prescriptions, which are usually less expensive than brand-name versions. And look into online pharmacies, which ship nationally and, because they have less overhead than brick-and-mortar stores, may offer better prices.
  4. Take advantage of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). These programs typically offer confidential services that relatively few employees take advantage of. For example, people who get UnitedHealthcare insurance through their employer can call in to speak with a master’s level behavioral health clinician to receive support as many times as needed, in real time, and around the clock — even if it’s 2 a.m. on a Saturday. Depending on your situation, you may not need to seek additional behavioral health support with a care provider if your EAP offers personalized guidance. Many EAPs also offer financial resources and tools, which may include guidance for tax planning, student loans, debt management, home purchases, and savings and insurance coverage.
  5. Use telehealth. Virtual visits have emerged as a go-to option to remotely access medical services, including primary, urgent and specialist care. Not only are these visits typically more convenient than in-person options, but they may also be available through your health plan. Virtual visits can help with the treatment of allergies, urinary tract infections, flu, rashes and more, from the comfort of your home without the hassle of sitting in an urgent care waiting room. Of course, there are times when an in-person visit is necessary, especially for chronic or complex conditions, emergencies or issues requiring hands-on exams, lab tests or X-rays. Check your health plan to determine what kinds of virtual care resources may be available to you.

It all boils down to gaining a greater awareness of your options and understanding your own health. Using that knowledge may help improve health outcomes and enable you to save on health care costs, creating a true win-win!

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