Thursday, May 10, 2012

8 Ways to Decrease Health Expenses



This post is not directly related to anything orthopedics. But anything related to my practice or medicine in general, I said I will discuss from time to time. And since personal finance has been one of my interests also, I found a perfect way to combine health or medicine, and financial management in one post.

Now to illustrate my point, one of the highest expenses you can have in your lifetime is health expenses. Health expenses can really drain your finances, and it seems like health costs always go up, no matter what you do, who’s in charge, or what laws are passed. Just like costs of basic goods, health costs increase with inflation.  In order to save money on health expenses,  there are a few things we can do:
1.      Keep and stay healthy.
This is probably the most important thing. You have more health expenses if you can’t lose your fat, or eat too much. Exercise, eat a balanced diet, and try to take time for relaxation and stress relief. You will need fewer doctor’s visits and will have fewer illnesses. And, while nothing can protect you completely, good health habits in general can lead to better disease management and protection, and less of a need for using health care services.
    Even doctors get sick.  Even cardiologists suffer heart attacks.  Even orthopedic surgeons can suffer from fractures. No one is immune from all diseases, especially as you grow old.
2.      Keep an emergency fund for health expenses 
You will never know when emergencies will occur.  And if such scenario happens (knock on wood), how do you plan to pay for your hospital bills?  By cash, by credit card, by selling your house, or by selling your kidneys?  In fact, as an orthopedic surgeon dealing with accidents or injuries and fractures almost daily, I see patients who are hard-pressed to find money for their medical and surgical care, even those with medical insurance.  It is heart-breaking to see patients crying in front of me because they can’t afford the treatment proposed. Do we want to be like them?
Bear in mind that emergency fund is money you can readily get without having to liquidate your long-term investments.  Some recommend a 6-month worth of monthly expenses as your emergency fund.  This can be placed in savings, time deposit accounts or even money market funds, where you can readily liquidate them.
Some believe that their credit cards are a form of emergency fund.  Sure, you can use them especially when required down payment by the hospital.  But make sure you pay the whole bill at the end of the billing period as credit cards have the highest interest rate known to man (next to the “Bumbay’s” 5-6).
3.      Contribute to Philhealth 
     Philhealth is our government’s medical insurance.  It will not pay for everything on your hospital bills. But a 20-30% reduction on your medical bills is not bad, for only a P100 or P200 monthly contribution. So unless you’re a beggar roaming in the streets, you can afford to contribute to Philhealth. If you are employed, this is automatically deducted from your salary.  But if you are self-employed, you need to pay personally.  Be sure your payment is up to date.
4.      Get a health insurance 
        Any coverage is better than no coverage. There are different health insurances available, but some are quite expensive.   Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) and life insurances provide some health benefits, depending on the type. They are appropriate in some situations, but not in some. Just remember to understand your coverage carefully.  Many patients have incurred large medical bills, only to find that a large portion of the bill is not covered by insurance, due to exclusions and limits. The actual coverage under health insurance can be quite complicated to understand, so be sure to read your policy and clarify things with your agent.
Also, if you already have a health insurance, check if you are paying for something you don’t really need.  You might be surprised that you have coverage for maternity benefits when you are already menopausal!  Cut your benefits and you may be paying a smaller premium.
5.      Buy generic 
      No study have really proven the superiority of branded medicines to generic ones.  But if you’re really doubtful of generic medicines, discuss with your trusted physician.
6.      Use your discount cards  
     The senior citizen cards are the most useful discount cards that can be used here in our country. If you’re a senior citizen, make sure you get one and bring them everytime you purchase your medicines.  And don’t forget to bring your doctor’s prescription and booklet as pharmacies usually require these before they give you the discount. I once saw an elderly patient who got so stressed at a pharmacy counter because she forgot her prescription pad and the pharmacist didn’t want to give her the SC discount. She was arguing relentlessly I thought she would collapse.  Don’t be like her.
7.      Ask your doctors if their fees are negotiable 
       This may be awkward, but it never hurts to ask.  I may be speaking only for myself, but as a doctor, I find giving patients discount for PF is a good way to build relationships.  Some patients really can’t afford, so there’s really nothing we can do about it.  Many of us will be happy to be paid today at reduced fees rather than wait 90-180 days for the insurance company to pay us with nearly the same “negotiated” rate.
8.      Ask help from hospital’s social service
       This is not applicable to everybody, because those who are qualified are the ones who can’t really afford. The qualifications are stiff, but you can at least try.  Even the big hospitals are required to offer a service or charity program. You can also try to get help from PCSO or the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.
Take Home Message
  
      We will all get sick during our lifetime.  And it is imperative that we should have a plan on how to pay and subsequently decrease our health expenses, or we can go bankrupt with even with just one major disease or accident.  This will ultimately help us attain financial success in life.

Can you think of other ways to decrease your health expenses?

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