Get a handle on health-care costs

Save a bundle on insurance and medications with these savvy tips

You probably gasped the last time you went to the doctor and paid the bill. Small wonder: The cost of staying healthy keeps going up. But you don't need to sacrifice your family's well-being for the sake of your budget. These tips will help you get the most out of your health insurance, or find quality coverage from government or private sources, if you don't have it.

If you are insured: Don't miss out on benefits

Learn about your plan so you can make the smartest decisions.

Know what you're eligible for. Read your benefits booklet from start to finish. Take advantage of all the services that are covered, including well-baby care, gynecological checkups and hearing and vision tests. Many plans charge only a small co-pay, as long as you use doctors in the plan's network. Check when making your appointment that the doctor still accepts your plan; printed materials from your insurance company may be out of date.

Bonus tip: If you have insurance but still can't afford drugs, co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs, the HealthWell Foundation may be able to help. It's a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to people having trouble paying their health-care bills (certain income limits apply). For information visit healthwellfoundation.org.

Know insurance lingo

Familiarize yourself with these common terms.

Co-pay: The amount you owe for a medical expense at the time the service is rendered. For example, your policy might require a $10 co-pay per doctor's visit.

Deductible: The total amount you must pay for health expenses before your health insurance begins to cover costs. Generally, the higher your deductible, the lower your premium.

Exclusion: Medical services that are not covered under an insurance plan. For example, a plan may not cover plastic surgery or certain kinds of drugs.

Lifetime maximum benefit: The top amount a plan will pay over your lifetime. Maximums generally range from $1 million to $5 million.

Premium: The periodic amount you pay for your policy.

Provider: The person or facility that gives health-care services. Providers can include doctors, therapists, hospitals, labs and clinics.

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