5 Ways to Lower Your Health Care Bills

By Steven MatthewsFeaturesCredit.com

As we gear up for the second enrollment period of the Affordable Care Act, the cost implications of the president’s signature legislation are still unraveling. While many experts expect health-care costs to rise over the next few years, there are steps consumers can take to keep a lid on their costs.

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Here are seven tips to put a dent in your health care costs and increase your overall wellbeing:

Research Options for Medical Procedures.  Costs for medical procedures and treatments vary, so don't assume that your current doctor offers the cheapest price on medical procedures.

For example, according to Change Healthcare's March 2012 Healthcare Transparency Index, screening for high cholesterol can cost as little as $117 or as much as $374 - a 219% variance.

If you have a planned procedure coming up, do your homework and shop around. Don’t be shy to call medical offices to find out what they charge, and compare prices online on websites like HealthcareBluebook.

1. Choose Generic Drugs. Whenever you get a prescription, find out the price and ask for a generic or cheaper alternative.

There are some instances when generics are not available, but when they are, take advantage of them. According to the Food and Drug Administration, generic drugs cost 80% to 85% less than their name brand counterparts.

2. Maintain a Healthy Weight. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, obese individuals pay $2,826 more in medical costs each year than those of a healthy weight. Simple steps like going for daily walks, reducing your meat consumption and increasing your fruit and vegetable intake can help reduce your waistline and beef up your wallet.

3. Live a More Active and Healthy Lifestyle. Exercise is an essential part of staying healthy, but it doesn’t require an expensive gym membership.

If you're a desk jockey, introduce more activity into your work day. Instead of sending emails to coworkers down the hall, visit them in person. Make a habit of filling up your water bottle every 30 minutes, as well. If you stare at a computer screen all day long, practice the 20-20-20 rule - look at something every 20 minutes for at least 20 seconds that's 20 feet away. Experts say this can cut down on eye pain and irritation.

4. Get Regular Check Ups. Getting a physical may not be your idea of a good time, but it is an effective way to reduce health-care costs by spotting any potential dangers early on. Many health insurance plans cover the annual visits and if your doctor can spot something early on rather than after it's already become a problem, the treatment is sure to be easier and much less expensive.

5. Participate in Your Company's Wellness Program. Many companies offer wellness program to help keep their workforce healthy and reduce health-care costs, don’t be scared to take advantage of its offerings.

Some companies provide monthly or weekly e-mail encouragement to eat right and exercise, while others go as far as to offer free blood work screenings or subsidize weight loss programs like Weight Watchers. Discounts on health insurance premiums are frequently available to participants.

When it comes to reducing your health care expenses, your work doesn't stop with prevention. It's important to do your homework after the bill comes in the mail. Look at all of your medical bills with a critical eye, and if you don't understand something, call in to the billing department and ask for an explanation for the charges.

Steven Matthews writes about healthcare, economic policy, small business, and personal finance.