The Doctor Is In: Know how to reduce health care costs

The cost of health care. We either love to talk about it, or hate to talk about it. Whichever camp you are in, health care costs are inescapable.

Below are some ways to help soften these costs.

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Prescription drugs: GoodRX.com is a website that compiles and compares prices for prescription drugs and over-the-counter supplements at stores in your area. Coupons from GoodRx can also be found on the website. Some list prices are even less than your co-pay would be. Note that there may be stores nearby you that are not listed, so check your neighborhood pharmacy or your health care practitioner’s office. Just because one item is a steal at a certain store doesn’t mean all items are. For example, GoodRx shows that vitamin D3 can be found at Kona Walmart for $3.90 with their coupon, while Costco sells the same dosage and pill count for $4.90. Melatonin, an over-the-counter sleep aid, is listed as costing $4.32 at Costco and $7.51 at Walmart. Do your due diligence for medications and supplements you take regularly.

Another option to save on supplements and prescription drugs is a PScard which serves as a coupon card. On the PScard.com website it lists FloMax, a common drug used by men to help urinary flow, as costing $11.83 at most Foodland and KTA pharmacies, while at Longs it is listed at $75.52. The unique benefit to the PScard is that it is also good for your pets’ medications.

Elementary as it may sound, another way to save on health care costs is to take care of your health. That can be by making better lifestyle choices on a daily basis. For example asking yourself, “A glass of wine tonight or a sparkling water with frozen blueberries?”

It can also mean taking care of health issues while they are small and manageable rather than waiting until you land in the hospital, racking up thousands of dollars in medical bills. If getting off work to go see a doctor seems like a hassle or is simply impossible for your current location or situation, you may be able to get a telemedicine appointment that can be done on your lunch break or before work. Ask your doctor’s office if a virtual visit through your computer is offered.

Costs for blood tests, other labs and imaging like X-ray, MRI or CT can vary greatly depending on where they are done. For example, radiology facilities often cost less than hospitals for the same imaging. If your insurance doesn’t cover a particular lab test ordered by your doctor, you can ask for their time-of-service rate.

If you are faced with a procedure or surgery that cannot be avoided, you can shop around for prices. Fairhealthconsumer.org provides in and out-of-network prices for many procedures. As part of the Public Health Service Act, all hospitals are to post a list of their prices called “Transparency in Pricing.” As of this publication date, most Hawaii Island hospitals are well on their way to having prices listed on their websites.

For a dual benefit, consider signing up for a Flexible Savings Account (FSA) if your employer offers it, or open a Health Savings Account (HSA) if you are eligible. Both have tax advantages and give you the freedom to pay for health care as you need it. One caveat with the FSA is that it is use it or lose it within the year it is funded, so plan accordingly.

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These tips can help you bolster your health and hopefully that of your wallet.

Dr. Sidell, licensed naturopathic physician and acupuncturist, has no affiliation to any of the resources listed in this column.

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