Get a handle on health-care costs

Save a bundle on insurance and medications with these savvy tips

Keep a lid on health-care spending

Find simple ways to cut costs on medication and doctor's visits without compromising your or your family's health.

Save on prescriptions. There are lots of ways to pay less at the pharmacy. First ask your doctor if there's a generic equivalent for any drug you're taking. Then shop around. If you live near a Wal-Mart, check out its prescription program, which offers a 30-day supply of hundreds of drugs (mostly generic) for $4--there's no income limit--as well as some birth-control and fertility medications for $9. Also consult mail-order pharmacies, especially for brand-name drugs. Recently, drugstore.com was charging 30 percent less than a local pharmacy for Paxil, an antidepressant, and 23 percent less for the cholesterol drug Lipitor. Medco offers similar savings; see tourofchampions.com to enroll.

Economize on doctor's visits. For common ailments, try a retail clinic, such as those found in CVS (under the name "Minute Clinic") and some Wal-Mart stores. One study showed that these clinics cost 25 percent less than a visit to the doctor. But make sure records of any treatment you receive are sent to your regular doctor. "These clinics aren't a substitute for your family physician," says Brenna Haviland, manager of the Institute of Health Care Costs and Solutions with the National Business Group on Health. "It's important to have a medical 'home' where all your treatment is coordinated." Finally, never consider such clinics a substitute for the emergency room. If you're in urgent need of care, go to the nearest hospital.

Negotiate fees. For expensive procedures ($500 and up), ask if you can pay in two installments. Or ask for a discount if you lay out cash in advance. Don't feel squeamish about speaking up; one survey showed that about two-thirds of consumers question their doctors about treatment options and costs. Simply say the expense was unexpected.

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