Raleigh, N.C. — The painful economy is putting the healthcare pinch on a lot of people. However, there are some cost-saving measures you can take to keep you and your budget healthy.
R.C. Teal says he could be a regular at the emergency room.
"Cutting myself with a chainsaw (and) getting stitches,” Teal said of his numerous injuries.
Instead, he is a regular at Rex Express Care, an urgent-care facility in Cary.
"I mean, if it's not life-threatening, there's no need to go stand in long lines and wait for all hours," Teal said.
He goes to Rex Express Care anytime he or someone in his family feels ill.
"Things like sore throats, flus, colds, coughs,” said Dr. Henry Jefferson, of Rex Express Care.
Jefferson says urgent cares are designed to treat less serious injuries and common sicknesses to help relieve the burden on ERs. They can not only save you time, but also money. A $1,000 visit to an ER could cost about $150 at an urgent care.
"The co-pays are probably a third of what they are in the emergency room,” Jefferson said.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, nine out of 10 medical bills contain overcharges. To help protect yourself:
- Review your medical bills carefully, just as you would your credit card or bank account statements.
- Keep track of procedures done at the office, such as date and length of the visit, then compare with the Explanation of Benefits (EOB).
- If you notice extraneous or unexplained charges on a medical bill, contact the medical provider’s office and ask them about it.
- If you have health insurance, contact your health insurer and ask them to look into the questionable charge.
- If you don’t get a resolution from the medical provider’s office, file a complaint with the North Carolina Consumer Protection Division by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.
The state's Managed Care Patient Assistance Program can also help answer questions about health insurance or deal with appeals if your health insurer denies coverage. Their specialists have helped thousands of patients save money. People who need help can reach specialists by calling 1-866-867-6272 or 919-733-6272, or by e-mailing MCPA@ncdoj.gov.
If MCPA specialists run into a problem with an insurance company, the North Carolina Department of Insurance can help.
For seniors or other people on Medicare, their Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) can help them understand medical charges. You can reach that office by calling 1-800-443-9354.
The state's 100 counties all have SHIIP offices with one-on-one counseling available for Medicare recipients.
Another health insurance Web site that can also offer good comparative rates is eHealthInsurance.com.
You can also save by asking for the generic version of your prescriptions. Consumer Reports' says generics are just as safe as brand-name drugs, only cheaper. You can also ask your doctor about free medication samples.
You may save even more by getting generic medications from Wal-Mart and Target. Many chain retail stores recently launched bargain prescription programs that cost about $4.
"So when you educate yourself with what all these benefits mean and how they're priced, you know, why give the health insurance company another $20 to $30 a month for a prescription drug benefit when you can use it three times a year at $4. That is $12 that you spend out of pocket. So this is how people can save money,” said Samuel Gibbs, an ehealth expert.