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Surprising ways to save money on health care

Apps and websites can find the best prices for everything from a root canal to the cost of health insurance.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 14, 2013 12:15PM

Logo: Dentist working on a computer (Andersen Ross/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)Nearly 50 million people in the United States have no health insurance. Those who do have coverage may still find it tough to deal with co-pays, deductibles and coverage caps.

Stretch your health care dollars with apps and websites that will help you save on everything from a root canal to the cost of health insurance.

Depending on your circumstances, some of these services can lead you to health care that's very low-cost or even free.

This isn't a comprehensive list, but it's a good start.

A Web app called Simplee is like for health care, according to Erick Schonfeld of Enter your health insurance account information and Simplee organizes it and then cross-checks medical claims and flags potential billing errors such as duplicate charges. If you decide to shop for a new plan, the site can suggest the right match based on your health care history.

Searching for coverage or for a better deal than your current health insurance? HealthPocket is a free site that shows all insurance plans in your region and lets you filter them by cost, prescription coverage and other details. You don't need to enter any personally identifiable information.

A free app called ZocDoc will search for area doctors who accept your insurance and also lets you book appointments, "even at the last minute," notes Dr. Steven Kussin of "This is one great outfit."

Can't afford health insurance right now? Check out Fair Health and Healthcare Blue Book, a pair of sites that offer insurance-paid rates in your region. Consumer Reports suggests asking potential health care providers to accept this rate (or less), paid in cash at the time of service. This will bolster your pay-as-you-go plan.

Dental care options

More than 130 million Americans  don't have dental insurance. If you're among them, check out these sites for low-cost (or even free) alternatives:

Discount dental plan. More than 100,000 dentists nationwide participate in such plans, offering discounts of 10% to 60%. Find dentists in your area through sites like and NewDentalChoice.


Free dentistry events. Free Dental Work has links to regional clinics. Dentistry From The Heart matches needy patients with dentists who will donate care. 


Dental schools. Don't worry -- it's supervised.

Orthodontics schools. This link includes locations in five Canadian provinces and Puerto Rico.

Nonprofit programs. Two more sources for free or nearly free orthodontic care are Smiles Change Lives and Smile for a Lifetime.

Vision and prescriptions

For eye care, EyeBenefits is a database of more than 14,000 providers offering discounted eye exams, glasses and contact lenses.

A trio of free eye care options exist:

  • Vision USA provides free exams by members of the American Optometric Association. Services are limited in some areas; to apply, see details in the link.
  • Sight For Students provides both eye exams and glasses for low-income, uninsured students who are under 18 and have not yet graduated.
  • EyeCare America features several free-care projects, including help for people with diabetes and glaucoma. 

Prescription costs can eat you alive. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance lists discount drug programs and offers tips on low-cost or free medication sources for the uninsured.

A free app called GoodRx compares medication prices at virtually every U.S. pharmacy, and may also provide coupons and cost-saving suggestions.

Health in the public interest

The Children's Health Insurance Program has coverage on a sliding-scale basis for youths up to age 19.

More than 8,500 federally qualified health centers provide care based on ability to pay.

State public health departments offer immunizations and other care.


The National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics site has links to free and low-cost U.S. providers.

More than three-fifths of the clients at Planned Parenthood clinics use the family planning centers for primary health care. Care is on a sliding scale, which could be free.

The 2-1-1 social services clearinghouse offers information on all sorts of regional programs that you might not find on your own.

More on MSN Money:

Jan 16, 2013 7:25PM
There is no competition among doctors, dentists or hospitals so why would prices vary much.   The U.S. has the most expensive medical system on the planet and yet we are about 19th on life expectancy.   insurance companies should be required to pay for medical costs overseas.    Your job was outsourced overseas.  Why can't you do the same with your medical care?
Jan 20, 2013 5:08PM
Papa Bush said "don`t smoke,drink.Exercise,eat all the right foods and never have sex and you`ll never get sick".
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.