Like any parent, Lynn Lathan of Mill Valley was sick with worry when her then-4-year-old aughter wound up in the hospital with a broken arm. Lathan’s round-the-clock vigil took a toll on her own health. So when her throat started
feeling raw and scratchy, Lathan mentioned to the night
nurse that she would likely be visiting her own doctor the
following day. thinking she was doing Lathan a favor, the
nurse offered to fast-track the ailing mother through the
emergency room so she could get a strep test without even
leaving the building. Lathan was delighted. that delight
soon turned to frustration after she received a $250 bill
from the emergency room for an office visit that under
normal circumstances would have cost around $35. at a
time when patients with medical insurance endure higher
deductibles and reduced benefits, Lathan’s story illustrates
the importance of becoming a savvy health care consumer.
Avoid the Emergency Room
For life-threatening conditions, the er is still the best bet.
But because hospitals have higher administrative costs
than small medical practices do, they are notoriously
expensive for treatment and shouldn’t be the first place
you turn for most after-hours medical care. instead, “try
visiting an urgent care center,” suggests Larry Gelb, CeO
of CareCounsel, a health care advocacy firm in San rafael.
Such facilities offer walk-in doctor’s appointments outside
normal business hours. “if you have insurance, you’ll want
to make sure you choose an in-network facility, which you
can usually find by checking your health care provider’s
website,” adds Gelb.
if you were planning on buying a large flat-screen tV,
chances are you’d do a little research to see where you
could get the best deal. the same rules apply to medi-
cal procedures. if your doctor recommends a head Ct
scan, your first instinct may be to choose the one that’s
most convenient. But would you be willing to drive a
few additional miles to save thousands of dollars? a Ct
scan of the head without contrast at novato Community
Hospital will run you $3,201; that same scan costs $295 at
Health Diagnostics, a freestanding imaging facility in San
Francisco’s financial district.
Know the Details
the idea of reading all the details of your insurance plan
may be daunting. But the more familiar you are with its
terms, the more you can save. Why pay full price for your
acupuncture treatments, for example, if it turns out your
policy covers all or part of the costs? Likewise, thanks to
the affordable Health Care for america act, you’re entitled
to a number of freebies even before you meet your deductible; depending on your age, that can include services
ranging from mammograms and colonoscopies to flu shots
and well-baby visits.
Open a Health Savings Account
another huge money saver: if you’re are on a high-deduct-ible insurance plan — with a deductible over $1,250 for an
individual or $2,500 for a family — the government allows
you to open a health care savings account. individual
policyholders can contribute up to $3,250 annually. For
families, the maximum yearly contribution is $6,450.
these funds are not subject to federal income tax at the