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Ten Ways to Spend Less on Health Care in a Recession

Armen Hareyan's picture

After many months of wondering, we finally have confirmation that we’re in a recession. Unfortunately, that means spending less on necessities and eliminating what we now consider to be luxuries. But during these tough economic times, the Institute for Good Medicine and the physician members of the Pennsylvania Medical Society urge you to protect your greatest asset – your health.

“Taking care of yourself or your family should never be viewed as a luxury, particularly if you have a chronic illness, or if you are unemployed or uninsured. We want to help our patients stay healthy or get healthy, regardless of their personal circumstances,” notes Daniel Glunk, MD, internal medicine physician and president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society.

The society offers these 10 ways to spend less on health care and stay (or get) healthy:

Don’t stop doing the right things
Take good care of yourself to avoid additional costs.

1. Take your medications as prescribed. If you take medications for a chronic condition such as high blood pressure, asthma, arthritis or diabetes, it can be extremely dangerous and ultimately more costly to stop taking them or alter your dose without consulting your doctor. Ask your doctor if a generic drug would be appropriate – the quality, strength and purity are the same as brand-name drugs, but they’re cheaper because the manufacturer didn’t invest millions to develop the drug. Also ask your doctor about prescription drug assistance, or visit www.RxAssist.org to see if you qualify for free and low cost medications.

2. Pay attention to early warning signs of health problems, particularly if it’s a symptom you haven’t experienced before. The longer you wait, the more costly it can be to treat. Visit your nearest clinic or doctor’s office before you head to the emergency room.

3. Keep important medical appointments. If you have a chronic illness or if your child is due for required immunizations, please keep those appointments. Worried about the cost? Visit http://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/ for a listing of clinics and federally qualified health centers that provide services free-of-charge or at reduced cost for those who qualify.

4. Continue self-exams and annual screenings. Take advantage of free health screenings at local clinics, hospitals, or health fairs. Sign up for periodic screening reminders from the American Cancer Society here: http://acsremindme.com/register.php?CID=206. The Pennsylvania Department of Health offers free pelvic and breast exams, pap tests, mammograms to women who qualify. Call 1-800-215-7494 for more information.

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5. Fill out the online health assessments offered by the Pennsylvania Medical Society. In just a few minutes, you can find out what steps to take to improve your overall health. Visit www.myfamilywellness.com and click on “How’s Your Health?” The assessment’s personalized reports offer valuable suggestions for making positive lifestyle changes.

Do something - Continue or begin healthy habits.

6. If you smoke, quit. Nearly one quarter (23%) of Pennsylvania’s adults smoke and about 20,000 die each year from the effects of smoking.[1] Smokers pay approximately $16,000 to $18,000 more in health care costs over their lifetime than non-smokers.[2] If you smoke, kicking the habit will save you big bucks PLUS, it will dramatically improve your health. Contact your local American Cancer Society, American Lung Association about smoking cessation classes. Beginning in February, the PA Department of Health is giving away a four-week supply of nicotine patches. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for more information.

7. Get moving. Regular exercise reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and osteoporosis. First, if you haven’t exercised regularly in a long time, consult your doctor. Exercise also helps to control weight; contributes to healthy bones, muscles, and joints; reduces falls among older adults; helps to relieve the pain of arthritis; reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression; and is associated with fewer hospitalizations, physician visits, and medications.[3] So, whether you take a brisk walk, climb stairs, ride a bike or lift weights, just get moving. You’ll feel better and hopefully need to visit the doctor less. Contact your local hospital about free or low cost exercise and weight-control classes.

8. Eat healthy. Try to make more meals at home. While fast-food value meals may seem like a good deal, they’re not always the healthiest choice. Instead, try cooking at home, including more fruits and vegetables in each meal. For great recipes, cooking tips and shopping lists, visit the American Caner Society’s Great American Eat Right Challenge (http://www.cancer.org/docroot/subsite/greatamericans/eat_right.asp).

9. Be more careful. The riskier your lifestyle, the more likely you are to have health problems.Take simple precautions in daily life: lift with your knees, buckle-up, and don’t take unnecessary risks. If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, make sure you know what you’re doing, or enlist the help of someone who does. Maybe now isn’t the best time to try putting on the new roof or re-wiring the house.

10. Be resourceful. If you have health care benefits, check to see if your plan includes lifestyle programs and preventive services. Take advantage of workplace wellness programs or check with your local hospital about free healthy lifestyle classes.

For more information on this topic and links to resources, visit www.myfamilywellness.org and click on “Health Highlight: Reducing Costs.”

[1] http://www.dsf.health.state.pa.us/health/lib/health/tobacco/TF2008Chap3.pdf
[2] http://www.cdc.gov/NCCdphp/publications/factsheets/Prevention/tobacco.htm
[3] http://www.dsf.health.state.pa.us/health/cwp/view.asp?a=186&q=237149

Chuck Moran
Director, Institute for Good Medicine at the Pennsylvania Medical Society