Be A Better Healthcare Consumer

In recent years, phrases like “consumer-driven healthcare” and “healthcare consumerism” have become more common among healthcare providers and benefit plans. This new language reflects a trend toward shifting responsibility for controlling healthcare costs to the people receiving care. The problem is, many of us have become so insulated from costs by our benefit plans that we have no idea how to be good healthcare consumers.

But it is possible to make this shift. The good news? Adapting to this marketplace reality will probably save you some money. Here are some ways to improve your healthcare consumerism.

Study your benefit options. In today’s marketplace, you likely have options for healthcare coverage, and the difference between choosing one option or the other could be considerable in terms of dollars and cents. Rather than simply taking the option that seems obvious, study your options and make sure you understand details like the impact of deductibles, out-of-pocket limits, and co-pays.

Know your plan. Make sure you know what your plan does and doesn’t cover, and how to get the best price on what is covered.

Take advantage of flex spending. If your employer offers pre-tax health-spending accounts, take advantage of them. They might not affect the cost of your care, but they will lower the overall impact healthcare has on your pocketbook.

Pay attention. If you’ve had employee-sponsored benefits for a couple of decades, you probably got used to paying virtually no attention to bills, explanations of benefits (EOBs), and other documents. To be a good consumer, though, you must pay attention, watching to make sure your bills are accurate, the EOBs reflect your coverage and so on.

Price shop on medications. Rather than always going to the pharmacy you’ve always gone to, check around for the best price, and rather than just flashing your benefit-plan card, check out prescription discount cards. You might find better deals than you would have sticking to your old routine.

Stick with your network. You’ll always get a better deal if you work with caregivers who are in your coverage network.

Negotiate. We’re not accustomed to negotiating price on healthcare, but many providers are willing to discuss price options, especially if you’re paying out of your own pocket or have a high deductible health plan.

Taking these and other steps toward being a better healthcare consumer can be daunting and time-consuming, but that’s kind of the point: We need to take the time to learn before we buy. After all, if we’re willing to do that when we buy cars, appliances, and other big-ticket items, shouldn’t we be willing to do it when we’re purchasing healthcare?

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