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Cutting Health Care Costs: Doctor Visits

11 Tips on Curbing Your Personal Spending on Doctor Visits and Medical Tests

WebMD Health News

(Editor's Note: This is the second in a three-part series of articles on cutting your personal health care costs. The first article offers 11 tips on cutting prescription drug costs.)

Dec. 10, 2008 -- If you're watching your budget these days -- and who isn't -- you may be wondering if you can afford your doctor visits and medical tests.

Skipping those appointments could be risky. So here are 11 dos and don'ts from a cardiologist and family medicine doctor on ways to lighten the cost of your medical appointments without sacrificing your health.

1. Do follow through with preventive care.

"You've got to take care of your health, because it's your most important resource," Christie Ballantyne, MD, tells WebMD.

Preventive care is especially important in high-stress times because stress can take its toll on your health, says Ballantyne, who directs the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at the Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center and is a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Ballantyne advises seeing your doctor to "make sure you're not having a worsening of your health due to the stress you're under."

2. Do exercise, eat right, lose even a little extra weight, and don't smoke.

A healthier lifestyle can pay off -- literally. For instance, you might need fewer prescription drugs, and you might be less likely to develop high-maintenance conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

"It's a little bit like the saying 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away' ... a walk a day keeps the bills low," says Ballantyne, adding that you don't have to lose drastic amounts of extra weight because even modest weight loss makes a difference.

You needn't spend money on a gym; walking is free. "If you feel stressed, go out and take a walk," Ballantyne says. "You'll feel better and you will have helped lower your bill of health."

And if you quit smoking, not needing cigarette money is a financial bonus on top of better health.

3. Do negotiate with your doctor, or the financial counselor at your doctor's office, about medical test costs.

Scheduled for a costly medical test that you can't afford? Ballantyne suggests asking your doctor, "Do I have to have this test now? Could I have it next year?"

But don't skip the test without having that talk. "Discuss it with your doctor; don't make the decision yourself not to get it," Ballantyne says.

If the test is a must and you're going to have to pay for it out of pocket, Ballantyne suggests that you negotiate the test price and offer to pay the Medicare rate.

"The person without insurance or a person paying cash pays a price that no one else pays for it. The government doesn't pay it, the insurance companies don't pay it," Ballantyne says.

It's up to your doctor's office to decide whether they want to negotiate. "All they can do is say no, right? You lose nothing by asking," Ballantyne says.

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