Keeping the cost of health care down when you're uninsured or under-insured is not easy. But learning from one common mistake and a few tips can help you avoid big costs down the road.
Avoid the Emergency Room! This is an extremely expensive place to seek treatment and should only be used when absolutely necessary - like in an "emergency." We often hear about people making the mistake of using the ER as their source of primary care. Others put off basic medical care until their condition becomes serious enough for the ER. This is dangerous, both financially and physically. In many cases it is cheaper to take your medications or have regular doctor visits than it is to go to the ER and be subsequently admitted to the hospital for treatment of a neglected chronic condition. This is the type of thing that gets people into serious financial trouble, like bankruptcy.
Instead, here are some things you can do to avoid a preventable trip the the ER:
1. Use an urgent care or walk-in clinic instead. These places may be more suited to your needs (as long as they are not life-threatening) and are much cheaper. Find an urgent care or walk-in clinic near you.
2. Take your meds. If you can't afford them, many drug companies, free clinics, pharmacies and other community organizations have programs to pay for or subsidize the cost of medications for people in need. A good place to start your research is www.needymeds.org. Also, talk to your doctor. He or she may know of more programs to help.
3. Don't skimp on your primary care, especially if you have a chronic condition that needs to be monitored. If you can no longer afford your doctor, don't be afraid to talk to him/her or to compare prices of other offices. Ask to pay the same as your insurance company used to pay. If that doesn't work, you may want to show them lower pricing of other local physicians. If your doctor refuses to work with you, start looking for another one who will.
If all else fails or you are still unable to afford discounted rates you negotiate with your doctor, find a free clinic in your area. You may qualify for free or reduced fee services. Call the clinic directly to first to see if you qualify and whether they offer the services you require.
Do you have any other tips to avoid the ER or to control health care costs? We'd love to hear them. Share them with others by commenting on this post.