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    Health Care Reform:

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    5 Ways to Save on Medical Costs

    3. Take Advantage of Online Tools

    In a medical emergency, you call 911, period. But if it's not an emergency, could you go to an urgent care center, a store clinic, or a community clinic?

    "Actually, the better question is: When do you seek medical care and when do you not need to?" Liu says.

    This doesn't mean you should take chances with your health. But online tools can help you decide when it's safe to treat yourself or when to seek medical care.

    When you do need medical care, walk-in clinics such as those at pharmacy chain stores "can do basic medical care quickly and possibly at less cost than traditional urgent care centers," Liu says.

    4. Switch to Generic Drugs

    Consider switching to generic medications when possible. The FDA says generic drugs use the same active ingredients and work the same way in the body as brand-name drugs, but they cost 30% to 80% less.

    "Generic medications are safe and equally effective as more expensive, newer medications," Liu says.

    Other ways to save money on medicines:

    • Check to see whether you are eligible for drug assistance programs in your state.
    • Check with the company that makes your medicine to see if you qualify for financial assistance.
    • Shop around your neighborhood or legitimate online pharmacies for the best prices on prescription drugs.

    Liu suggests looking into the $4 generic drugs offered at some national chain stores.

    Lower-priced medications are sometimes offered online, but you need to be careful about illegal web sites that sell unsafe drugs. The FDA web site has information that can help you stay clear of risky Internet purchases.

    5. Talk With Your Doctor About Pill Splitting

    Some people save money by splitting pills in half. Here's how this method works.

    Let's say your doctor wants you to take 10 milligrams (mg) of a certain prescription drug. It's possible that the cost of buying a supply of 10-mg pills is the same as buying the same number of 20-mg pills.

    If that's the case, your doctor can prescribe the 20-mg pills and you can cut them in half. That way, you'll have twice as many pills for the same price.

    But pill splitting can be risky. Some tablets -- because of their size, shape, ingredients, or design -- cannot safely be split. Capsules and time-released drugs, for example, should always be taken whole.

    The FDA and the American Medical Association advise against pill splitting unless it is specified in the drug's labeling.

    Always check with your doctor first about splitting pills to make sure it's safe.

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