Comparison Shopping for Medical Procedures? New Ways to Save on Health Care

An estimated 46 million Americans don't have health insurance, and with the troubled economy those who are covered worry constantly about what could happen if they lose their jobs and company health care coverage.

Last year American families spent an average of $6,000 out of pocket for health insurance and other medical costs, and that number is expected to rise to $9,000 by 2012, according to figures from the National Coalition of Health Care.

Mellody Hobson, "Good Morning America" personal finance contributor and president of Ariel Investments, appeared on "GMA" today to talk about how you can cut health care costs.

Click HERE to see how you can find discounted vaccinations for kids and other web extra tips.

Ways to Cut Health Care Costs

Discount Clubs

For a monthly fee ranging from $12 to $30 per person, members can have access to doctors, dentists and more affordable drugs, among other benefits, Hobson said.

The clubs can be tremendously helpful for those people who don't have health insurance, or who lack dental, vision or chiropractic coverage.

Depending on the medical procedure required, members may have to pay cash at the time of their appointment.

This isn't health insurance, therefore members don't have to worry about ever being denied coverage, and the savings can be significant, she said. Many of these plans can be used when individuals have maxed out their insurance coverage for the year, resulting in reduced out-of-pocket expenses.

For example, with AmeriPlan USA, members can save up to 65 percent of the cost of fillings, crowns and other dental work, and up to 80 percent on preventative medical care, Hobson said.

Another club, Careington, offers up to 80 percent off of lab costs and 45 percent off of doctor's visits. Hobson advised interested people to check to make sure the club cover covers their area before they sign up.

Don't Forget Union, Organizational Discounts

These are perks that many people forget about, she said.

For example, the AARP has a vision discount plan that saves members 30 percent on eyeglasses and 30 percent on contact lenses at select retailers. Some unions, including the AFL-CIO, have built into their memberships discounts for prescription drugs, vision and dental needs.

Some companies will offer additional discounts -- separate from those offered by employee medical insurance plans -- on contacts or glasses purchased from certain suppliers, she said.

Make sure to check your employer or any other organizations to which you belong to see if you can get additional savings.

Comparison Shop

Very few people shop around for health care, especially when it comes to services that aren't covered by their insurance, but there are websites that allow people to literally comparison shop by medical procedure to find the lowest price.

Pricedoc.com allows people to select a procedure, put in their zip code and, with one click, receive multiple quotes for a range of procedures, Hobson said.

Some doctors will list their lowest price and others will actually negotiate with you via the "make me an offer" option on the website, she said.

Outofpocket.com is another good site for finding deals on health care, Hobson added.

If you decide to shop around, use caution. The lower price does not always equal the best quality of care, Hobson said. When you are considering any medical procedure it's important to get referrals from people that you trust, such as your primary care physician.

Buy Corrective Eyewear at National Chain

Only about 30 percent of employers provide vision care coverage, Hobson said. In most cases, health insurance only pays for the treatment of eye injuries or diseases, but not for glasses or contact lenses, she added.

If people need corrective lenses that aren't covered by insurance, they should consider joining a vision discount plan, she said.

Buying contacts and glasses through your ophthalmologist or optometrist is usually the most expensive option, Hobson said. Buying from a national chain, such as Walmart, Costco or Target, may bring big savings. Not only do these stores provide discounts on corrective vision items, but many locations offer optometrists onsite so you can get your eye exams and corrective eyewear together for even greater savings, she said.

You can also consider buying your eyewear online at 1-800-CONTACTS.

Save on Your Prescriptions

The Kaiser Foundation says the average American takes 12 prescription drugs annually.

Mail order pharmacies and generic drugs can help people save money, but doctors can also help patients to reduce their drug costs when they write the prescription.

Patients should ask their insurance companies for a list of the prescription medications that they cover -- the list is called a formulary -- and share it with their doctors. Ask the doctor to select the best medication for the lowest price.

Another way to save on prescriptions is to ask your doctor for samples of the medication, especially those for which you only need a small amount, or which you would like to try out first before you order it, Hobson said.

Don't forget about the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA). The program is funded by American pharmaceutical companies and helps people who can't afford prescriptions get the medications they need at almost no cost, if they qualify, Hobson said.

The PPA offers more than 2,500 brand name drugs and many generic ones.

Since its launch in 2005, the program has helped more than 6 million people.

To find out if you qualify, go to ww.pparx.org

Web-extra Tips

Make sure to get physical and dental checkups regularly. Adding this preventative measure will help you stay healthy, and may catch problems early enough so they do not become larger and costlier later on.

Doctors lose thousands of dollars on unpaid bills and credit card fees. If you can afford to pay for the procedure in advance and in cash, most doctors will give you a discount, sometimes up to 10 percent.

Before your kids can go back to school, they have to get the necessary vaccines. If you have no health insurance, or if your health insurance does not cover certain immunizations, you can get the shots at a deeply discounted rate through the Vaccines for Children program run by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can also get routine vaccines, like the flu shot, for a much lower price at drug stores and grocery stores.

Click HERE to visit the program.

Click here to return to the "Good Morning America" website.

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