While your doctor is the medical expert, you are your own best advocate. Practicing these five things will help put you in the driver’s seat of your health care.
1. Make health care choices based on information, not fear. When your doctor recommends a procedure or medication, you should find out more. What are the pros and cons of the procedure? Is it truly necessary? Is this procedure covered by my insurance? Are there other ways to accomplish the same goal? What is the cost? Insurance costs are a direct reflection of medical costs, so being a wise consumer helps with your out-of-pocket expenses and ultimately your insurance costs. Make sure you are informed on the benefits and risks of all your health care decisions, even the ones that seem obvious.
2. Use medications responsibly. If you have been prescribed long-term medications, make sure to use them as prescribed. When starting a new drug, ask your doctor if a generic alternative is available. You can also ask about a pill-splitting option to decrease your out-of-pocket medication costs. Americans incur $200 billion worth of care per year for illnesses and hospitalizations that could have been avoided if medications were taken as prescribed.
3. Understand your health insurance policy. Health insurance is complicated. But the more you know your plan, the better you will be able to understand what is covered and how much you will have to pay out of pocket. Many preventive services are covered under your plan. Check to see which services are covered. Preventive services can help prevent high costs later. In addition, when scheduling appointments, ask the provider if they participate with a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan. You will be responsible for additional costs if you see a provider who is not participating.
4. Exercise. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Yes, prevention is still the best medicine. Controlling your weight with a healthy diet, regular exercise and enough sleep can help prevent the onset of diabetes, heart conditions and cognitive deficits. Even if you are young, making healthy decisions today will positively impact your health in the future decades. Controlling diet, weight and healthy habits will save you lots of money in the future.
5. Choose the right care at the right time. When assessing an illness or injury, ask yourself if it constitutes an emergency department visit, a walk-in clinic visit, or if you can hold off for a less-expensive office visit. Some providers offer a free nurse helpline, which may be helpful to get resolution. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the average cost of a visit to the doctor is about $199; a visit to the ER costs about $922. About 25 percent of those visits are unnecessary.
Denise Pinkney is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.