How to Protect Your Health Care in a Rough Economy

See Your Doctor Regularly

A stethoscope and money on top of a calendar.

Keep up to date on screenings. Mammograms, cholesterol level checks, and colonoscopies can catch serious problems. If medical conditions are caught early, they can be less complicated to treat and, as a result, less expensive.

Keeping up with treatment, medication, and healthy habits is especially important if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease. Why? This can keep your health from getting worse and requiring more costly treatment.

Get Your Shots to Prevent Illness

A man getting a flu shot.

Vaccines aren't just for kids. Immunizations can help keep you and your loved ones healthy. Most vaccines are covered by insurance -- and many are affordable without it. Plus, they save you the cost of medical care, treatment, and sick days off work by preventing illness.

Talk to your doctor or visit the CDC web site at to find out which vaccines you should get to prevent illness.

Cut Prescription Drug Costs

A photo of scored pills on a pink background.

Ask your doctor if you could safely split some of your pills. If so, your doctor can prescribe a higher-dose, and have you take 1/2 a pill at a time to save money. Or you may be eligible for drug company "prescription assistance" programs.

Shop for low prices. Mail-order pharmacies may offer three months' worth of a drug for a discounted price.

Embrace a Healthy Lifestyle

A woman breaking a cigarette.

Healthy habits like eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep can decrease your risk of disease and illness. If you smoke, consider quitting. Overweight? By becoming more active you may help cut your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.

Open a Flexible Spending Account (FSA)

An FSA card on top of a wallet.

FSAs cut costs by saving you taxes. Pre-tax money is taken from your pay and put into an account for you to spend on health care not covered by insurance.

  • Put only what you'll spend on medicine and co-pays in your FSA.
  • Save receipts to prove you're meeting FSA rules, in case asked.
  • Spend all your FSA money before the year is up. What you don't use, you lose!

FSAs are only available through employers and are typically only available during open enrollment time -- a once a year event.

Preserve Coverage with Low-Cost Plans

A businessman wearing a life preserver.

A "catastrophic" or "high-deductible" insurance plan can be a cheaper option if you're healthy. Bought through your employer or on your own, monthly payments are low. But you and your family may pay $5,000 or more of medical bills out of pocket before insurance pays.

Save for Emergencies

A man laying in a hospital bed with a cast on his leg.

Broken or lost glasses. A chipped tooth. Emergencies can and do happen. And putting medical bills on high-interest credit cards can bury you in debt.

Starting an emergency medical fund can help. Sock away $100 or $200 a month into savings. Most banks will let you set up automatic deposits online. Can't afford that much? Put aside what you can to help lessen debt from an unexpected bill.

Pick Only Necessary Procedures

A dentist holds up a mirror for a woman.

Sometimes you are offered products or procedures that are not medically necessary.

Beware the up sell on teeth whitening at the dentist, or new frames from the optometrist, or a neck adjustment at the chiropractor. These often aren't covered by insurance.

Take Care of Your Teeth

A woman flossing her teeth.

Get a dental checkup and regular cleanings.

It costs about $200 to fill a cavity caught early. Untreated, you may later need a root canal, which can cost $2,000 for the operation and crown.

Laid off? Try COBRA

A woman who has been laid off carrying her belongs in a box with a note to call COBRA.

The hitch? Cost. Before, your company likely paid part of your premium. Under COBRA, you pay the whole cost, plus a 2% fee. If you're currently undergoing medical treatment, you may want to consider keeping the same doctor and insurer with COBRA. Otherwise, you may be able to save money by shopping for other health insurance options on the private market. The Affordable Care Act makes health plans and subsides that could help cover your costs available. You can check or work with an insurance agent.

Help When You're Uninsured

A woman checking in at a health clinic.

Community health clinics often offer some health care at reduced cost or for free based on your income. Contact your local health department. If you have a limited income and meet other requirements set by your state, you may be eligible for Medicaid coverage. Find your local Medicaid office at

Get Virtual Medical Help

A sick woman browsing the internet on her laptop.

Find out if you can call or email your doctor with simple medical questions. Or see if your doctor recommends a nurse help line.

Often you can get basic medical advice over the phone or by email, saving you the co-pay and hassle of going to the doctor.

Get the Most from Doctor's Visits

A female doctor talking to a patient.

When you do go to the doctor, write down all your questions ahead of time. This can cut down on follow-up visits. Once there, ask your doctor to help you decide which care or procedures are really necessary, and which are elective.

Be sure your doctor understands your financial situation. Tell her if you're thinking of skipping a procedure or dropping a medicine because of cost. She may be able to help you manage your medical care on a budget.



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  • University of Michigan Health System: "Staying Healthy in a Tough Economy."
  • U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: "Get Adult Booster Shots."
  • Consumer Reports: "How to Maximize Your Health Insurance Benefits."
  • "Get Motivated to Exercise."
  • National Association for the Self-Employed: "Tips for Health Insurance Cost Cutting."
  • BusinessWeek: "Study Links Medical Cost and Personal Bankruptcy."
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