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Tips to Help You Become a Better Healthcare Consumer

Healthcare Consumer

What is a healthcare consumer? For many people, the term patient comes to mind. The terms are nearly synonymous, but there are some slight differences – mainly cost considerations and amount of involvement. To become a true healthcare consumer, it means becoming more actively involved in your personal healthcare.

Here are a few tips to help you become a better healthcare consumer.

How to Become a Better Healthcare Consumer

Be Proactive with Your Health

Think about this: 7 out of 10 consumers feel they’re responsible for managing their own health.

Of course this is obvious, but the best way to keep healthcare costs down is to stay as healthy as possible. Granted, some people struggle with this more than others, particularly those with chronic illness. However, you can become proactive with your health by taking manageable steps like getting more exercise, watching your calorie intake, quitting smoking, abstaining from drugs, and reducing alcohol. These can keep your body and mind sharp, ward off illnesses, and help you heal more quickly.

In addition, getting an annual checkup, scheduling preventative screenings, and seeing the dentist twice a year, can all help you stay in front of your personal healthcare.

Know Your Health Insurance Plan

It sounds really boring, but you need to know the details about your health insurance plan.

  • How much is your premium? Co-pays?
  • What is your deductible?
  • What expenses are covered?
  • Which healthcare providers are in your network?
  • Are there wellness incentives?

It’s crucial for you to know the answers to all these questions, among others. Knowing your financial responsibility, in addition to knowing the cost of procedures and other healthcare expenses, are a critical component to being a better healthcare consumer.

Know When to See a Doctor

When you start to feel ill or have a minor injury, do you feel the need to see a doctor? Many things can be taken care of at home, such as a cold or minor scrape. However, there other circumstances where urgent or emergency care is necessary – like with shortness of breath, stroke, and heart attack symptoms, to name a few.

Here’s a good resource for advice on when to see a doctor or seek emergency care.

Utilize Your Consumer Directed Healthcare Account

With a consumer directed healthcare (CDH) account, participants use funds that are set aside specifically for out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. CDH accounts include Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs), and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

In addition to saving money on your taxes (the accounts are funded pre-tax), the accounts can be used for a wide range of eligible out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. You’d be surprised as to what is considered an eligible expense. Aside from common expenses like dental cleanings and exams, eye exams, and prescription medications,  you can also purchase bandages, ambulance services, and acupuncture, among other items and services.  See IRS publication 502 for a full list of eligible medical and dental expenses.

The other benefit of having an FSA, HRA, or HSA, is that you have the freedom to spend those funds on the procedures, medications and other medical expenses that benefit you best.

Shop Around and Save Money

It’s a fact: healthcare is expensive. As a healthcare consumer, it is in your best interest to find ways to save money. How? Here are four ways:

  • Choose in-network doctors and facilities
  • Ask about generic alternatives to name brand prescriptions
  • Review your medical bills and Explanation of Benefits (EOBs)
  • Decide whether your illness needs a doctor’s attention (see Know When to See a Doctor)

As you can see, by making some changes and becoming actively involved in your personal healthcare, you can become a better healthcare consumer.