Monday, November 10, 2008

Frugal Healthcare Management - Part I

By day I am a labor and employment law attorney and part of my job is serving as a Trustee on health and welfare trusts that provide medical/dental insurance to all the participants. In that position I get a very real picture of the costs associated with funding a plan and providing the health services.

Two years ago, our health insurance plan (our firm is also covered through the plan) went through a major overhaul. Foremost was a mindset change - focusing more on staying healthy and preventive measures, even though it meant a temporary cost increase.

Based on this experience*, here are my first 2 tips on how to be a wise healthcare consumer:

1) Stay healthy. I know, I know - easier said than done. Statistics show that the unhealthy participants use the plan more and unfortunately less wisely. Overweight participants have more health incidents than participants who are at their ideal weight. Diabetes, heart disease and a number of other conditions result from being overweight. Getting participants to lose weight by offering things like a pedometer to help reach 10,000 steps per day is a great way to get people motivated. I have been wearing mine diligently and am so much more conscious of being more active even during my workday.

To help people stay healthy, we changed coverage for well-baby checkups, yearly physicals and some prescription medications to 100%. Additionally, the plan offered incentives to participants such as cash for filling out lifestyle surveys, the free pedometer mentioned above, and most recently tobacco cessation. The Quit Smoking campaign offers free nicotine patches, gum and $100 to participants who complete a certain number of personalized treatment sessions. If your plan offers these options, take advantage of them. Even if they are not paid at 100%, the costs are usually reduced from what you would pay in the open market.

If your employer is struggling with the rising costs of covering employees, it may be worthwhile to suggest to your HR department or the person in charge of your healthcare procurement that some of these changes be considered. The worst they can say is no and if some changes are made, it may be able to lower your employer's costs, which they can then hopefully pass on to employees!

I am a big fan of natural health care, using supplements and natural remedies as a compliment to traditional health care. Crystal at The Thrifty Mama had a great post here about keeping your family healthy the natural way.

2) If you are usually healthy, you can save money by choosing a lesser plan with a high deductible. This is often ideal for single employees or those without children. I do not recommend cutting back on catastrophic medical coverage but if you rarely need to go to the doctor, some of these plans will cover preventive services which would help you stay healthy.

What do you do to help your family save money on healthcare? Leave me a comment and check back for more money saving tips!

*This is not legal advice - just my opinion

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Seattle Area, Washington - the state
I am an attorney, working mom of 3, who loves a bargain, a great deal and freebies. Who doesn't want the best, for less? Come here to see my triumphs and budget tribulations, good deals and my take on what the good life can mean...