Good news. Fewer Americans are skipping medical care based on cost.
According to new findings from the National Health Interview Survey, 4.4 percent of respondents said they had foregone medical care the previous year due to cost. That is the smallest number of people skipping treatment based on cost since 1999.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found that more people have insurance. At the beginning of this year, 9.2 percent of Americans were uninsured compared with 11.5 percent in 2014 and 16 percent in 2010.
That said, health care spending is on the rise again, according to federal economists, with a projected growth of 5.8 percent a year from 2014 to 2024. The report said the spending growth is due to the rebounding U.S. economy, more insured people under the Affordable Care Act and an aging population.
So how do you maximize your health care dollars?
One of the best ways to limit your costs is to ensure that you are receiving your medical care in the most appropriate setting. Getting treated at a physician’s office or a community clinic costs much less than receiving comparable care at a hospital emergency room.
Novant Health UVA Health System provides many options where patients can receive medical care, including urgent care and express care clinics, as well as extended hours and walk-in clinics at a number of primary care offices. Patients can also take advantage of e-visits and video visits for some conditions.
Not sure where to go to seek treatment or what is the best option for your medical problem? A free call to the 24-hour virtual care center staffed by Novant Health UVA Health System nurses can provide you with help.
Here are several other suggestions to help you better manage your health care dollars.
Develop a relationship with a primary care provider. Studies show that costs are reduced when a patient has a good working relationship with his or her primary care provider, and is getting annual wellness checks and screenings that help people stay healthy or catch issues early.
“It is important that a patient has a relationship with a primary care provider and stays connected for ongoing monitoring and care coordination, especially for patients with such chronic conditions as congestive heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” said Adrienne Cole-Williams, manager of care coordination.
Her team of clinical professionals includes nurses, a dietitian, a pharmacist, a pharmacist technician and a social worker. Together the team works with providers, independent providers and acute care teams to coordinate care for the northern Virginia population.
Studies have found that coordinated care in appropriate medical settings reduces emergency room admissions.
If you are on medications, take them as prescribed to help manage your condition and stay healthy.
Patients who have trouble paying for their medication should mention this to their care team providers. “It is possible that community resources could be identified to help pay for the medications,” Cole-Williams said.
“Patients with chronic conditions who skip taking their prescriptions to save on cost are at risk of having ER visits and hospital readmissions,” she added.
Ask your provider about the cost of medications. Generic medications are often a great alternative. If you have an expensive prescription or your insurance plan won’t cover the cost of a certain medication, talk to your provider or ask your pharmacist about other, lower-cost options that deliver the same results.
Understand your company’s benefit plan and use appropriate health services. Some benefit plans cover annual checkup and screening exams such as mammography at 100 percent as long as patients meet age requirements.
Novant Health UVA Health System has financial counselors who can also guide patients through payment options.
See if you qualify for a health care subsidy to help pay for your insurance premium through the federal government at HealthCare.gov.
Ask your provider if any needed procedure can be done in an outpatient basis. This will usually cost less. For example, a Medicare beneficiary could pay as much as $496 in coinsurance for a cataract procedure in a hospital outpatient department, while that same beneficiary's copayment in an outpatient setting would be only $195, according to the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association.
As patients and health care consumers, getting connected to a primary care provider not only can help you stay healthy, it will also help you save money over time.