4/27/2012 5:46 PM ET|
10 ways to slash your medical costs
Want to keep your health costs low the easy way? Avoid doing the bad things that tend to land you in the doctor’s office. Here are tips for nipping those bills in the bud.
My mother was slender, ate a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, and exercised regularly. She died of cancer two months after her 62nd birthday.
My father was a healthy, normal-weight man when a stroke killed him. A friend who never smoked recently died of lung cancer.
So I'm not one of those people who believes living right can somehow immunize us against health care disasters. Disease, accidents and disability can happen to anyone.
Still, a sizable chunk of health care spending in the U.S. wouldn't be necessary if we took better care of ourselves. So-called "modifiable health risk factors," such as how much we weigh, what we eat and drink, how much we exercise and whether we smoke "are responsible for much of the illness, healthcare utilization, and subsequent costs related to chronic disease," as one set of researchers put it. Obesity and smoking alone may add $100 billion to $150 billion a year to U.S. health care costs.
Most of what's written about reducing medical expenses is really more about managing the costs you incur. Finding a good health insurance plan, fighting back when you're denied coverage and negotiating medical bills can help with that.
But this column is about trying to prevent the big costs before they occur.
Here are the 10 costliest medical conditions, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
|Heart conditions||$99.2 billion|
|Trauma-related disorders||$80.8 billion|
|Mental disorders||$79.8 billion|
|Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (including emphysema and chronic bronchitis) and asthma||$64.2 billion|
|Osteoarthritis and other nontraumatic joint disorders||$59 billion|
|Diabetes mellitus||$40.6 billion|
|Back problems||$34.1 billion|
|Source: Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, 2009|
Many of the chronic conditions listed above have one or more lifestyle components, meaning they can be caused or exacerbated by how we choose to live our lives. Take heart disease. Although genetic inheritance has a role in about half of all heart attacks, lifestyle choices have a far more powerful effect on risk. One study found that the factors that contribute to 90% of heart attack risk are within a person's control. The factors include smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of physical activity, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels (the last two of which can be controlled with medication if lifestyle changes don't work).
Besides, being sick is costly, even with good health insurance. About half of the sickest folks face out-of-pocket expenses that exceed 10% of their family income, according to research conducted for the Public Health Service. Medical bills are a factor in many bankruptcies, even though people typically have insurance at the onset of their illness, accident or disability.
Want to spend less on health care? You can improve your odds considerably if you:
Wear a seat belt and stop multitasking in the car.
Injuries are the leading cause of death for people ages 1 to 44, and traffic crashes are the most common cause of serious trauma. So why, with our very lives at stake, do we yak on the phone (increasing the chances of a crash fourfold) or text while driving (increasing the chances of accident by 20 times)?
Put your phone away, so you can keep your eyes peeled for those other idiots who aren't paying attention. An added bonus, on top of reducing your risk of injury or death: You won't face spiraling car insurance premiums after a crash. Off the road, you can reduce your chances of traumatic injury by using appropriate safety equipment, such as a helmet, when you bike or skate; maintaining smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in your home; and removing hazards around the house that could cause falls (the third-leading cause of death from unintentional injury).
The American Heart Association recommends you exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. (If you have a dog, you've got a built-in exercise buddy, since your dog needs a 30-minute daily walk to stay healthy, too.) Can't swing 30 minutes? Even 10 minutes a day of moderate aerobic activity, such as a brisk walk, can significantly reduce your risk of heart attack, according to Mayo Clinic researchers. The other benefits of exercise include weight control, lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol, better moods and a reduced risk of diabetes.
You don't need me to tell you it's time to put down the coffin nails. Everybody else has been telling you for years. If you want the laundry list of health problems caused by smoking, you'll find it here. The CDC says smoking kills more people every year than motor vehicle accidents, illegal drugs, alcohol abuse, HIV, murders and suicides -- combined. Plus, it makes you stink. Save $5 or more a pack, and your life, by quitting. The website smokefree.gov offers links to a variety of resources to help you quit. If you have health insurance, it may even pay for smoking cessation programs.
Obesity kills, and it often does so in slow and costly ways. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. On average, U.S. health care expenditures in 2006 for people who were obese was $5,148, compared with $3,636 for those who were overweight and $3,315 for people who were of normal weight. Yet two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight and 35% are obese, defined as having a body mass index of 30 or above. (You can calculate your BMI here.) Many people find programs like Weight Watchers to be effective, although weight loss surgery may be an option, as well. For more, read "What being fat is costing you."
It's not really rocket science. You're supposed to eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and less fried, salty and sugary stuff (and watch that soda; even diet pop is associated with weight gain). It's easy (meaning straightforward), but it's hard (meaning difficult to apply), so get educated and consider getting some support. The American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association have some information here.
Watch your back (and your joints).
Losing weight and getting regular exercise can ease many back and joint problems. (Talk with your doctor about what kinds of exercise make sense; those with knee problems, for example, might be better off doing aerobics in a pool than on land.) Something as basic as learning how to lift properly can help you avoid back trouble; bend your knees and hips until you are squatting, keeping your back straight, then lift with your leg muscles.
My mom might be here today if she'd gotten the colonoscopy that doctors now recommend at age 50. (Lower that to age 40 if you have a relative who developed cancer.) Women need mammograms and cervical exams, men need prostate exams. Regular checks of your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, skin (for skin cancer) and teeth are important. Your doctor can help guide you on what you need and when.
Let the screens go dark.
Australian researchers found that increasing your television viewing increases your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Even more disturbing, the researchers found that people who spent four or more hours a day in front of a television or a computer had an 80% increased risk of cardiovascular-disease-related death compared with those who watched less than two hours a day. The risk remained even after researchers subtracted the effects of common heart disease risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, bad diet and a big belly. Which means you could be thin, healthy, even a regular exerciser and still face a higher risk of death because of your time staring at a screen. So get up and move. (A bonus from turning off the television is that you don't have to watch all the commercials featuring high-fat and otherwise unhealthy food.)
Use drugs carefully.
Unintentional poisoning is second only to motor vehicle crashes as a cause of unintentional injury death, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Among people 25 to 64, unintentional poisoning actually caused more deaths than motor vehicle crashes. And nine out of 10 unintentional poisoning deaths involve drugs. Prescription painkillers, which includes such drugs as methadone, hydrocodone and oxycodone, were most commonly involved in deadly poisonings, followed by cocaine and heroin. So don't think that you're safe just because you don't use illegal drugs. If you're prescribed a drug, follow the directions. If you can't or can't stop, get help.
Don't neglect your mental health.
Exercise can improve your mood, but it's not a bulwark against serious depression, anxiety, phobias or other mental illnesses. And mental illness is far more common than you might think. One in four U.S. adults experiences a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year, according to the CDC, and 46% of Americans will suffer from a mental disorder in their lifetimes. Early intervention and treatment can make a big difference.
Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.
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We usually are lazy and lie ourselves thinking that a pill a day can cure illnesses we got over the years.
I think the most safe and healthy option is go back to basics:
Eat less, eat healthy, move more and leave all our addictions on a side including all electronic gadgets.
Majority of illness and discomforts in our bodies are results of what we eat and how we use our bodies.
If only we stop and think that we only have one body to live; we'll think twice on wasting it.
"Wear a seat belt"
I've often wondered why so many Americans drive around without a seatbelt (or a helmet if they're on a motorcycle). I am a Canadian, and whenever I travel to the US, I am absolutely flabbergasted by the number of people I see who are NOT wearing their seatbelts. Sure, I see the occasional person at home who doesn't wear a seatbelt, but not to the extent as in the USA! A few years back, Hubby and I went to Florida for a vacation, and actually counted the cars where the drivers/passengers weren't wearing a seatbelt/helmet...On average, approximately 7 in 10 were NOT wearing a seatbelt/helmet. It was so prevalent, we actually asked a cab driver if it was legal in Florida to not wear them!! Also, on my most recent trip to Atlantic City, we heard about 2 different local car accident fatalities on the news - both of them due to not wearing seatbelts. It's sad really. Why do so many people take the risk? I don't understand.
Guess what? Follow all this good advice and you are going to live long longer nickel and diming at medical expenses THEN you are still going to get sick and die.
I fail to understand "the cost savings" if the outcome is the same.
Next old age is bad for you. It kills you sooner.
I'm at the point where I sincerely believe it's all about hype and a means to rob people blind through healthcare cost. Anything and any excuse to stick their little chubby greedy hands further and deeper into our pockets.
Many things have an effect on our well being. DrDetroit hit on a huge one. If you stress your body becomes acidic and you need to eat something ( either food or drugs ) to counter this or suffer. My mother would tell me that I was harboring animosities whenever I got sick and she was usually right. The one thing DrD mentioned that was incorrect is that doctors are interested in the " cure " not the cause. I say they are no longer interested in the cure but rather mangement of the symptoms. This keeps you coming back to them again and again. They are also tightly associated with the pharmaceutical companies that want their drugs dispenced.
I also applaud 1234whatarewefightinfor, he is one of a few that " get it ". It is all about the greedy fat cats with their hands out taking advantage of those with a genuine need.
I know people will pop back that preventive medicine saves lives. They may or may not. But there is no doubt that blood pressure and cholesterol medicines, pap smears, mammograms, colonscopies, etc, are very profitable!
The number drug prescribed in the US now is for cholesterol! A young family doc told me recently that the only thing proven to really help was diet, not those drugs
They like to hype low fat, high grain diets! A fact about blood sugar is that both protein and fat take twice as long to raise blood sugar as do carbohydrates!
Diet is also very controversial, at least in what is hyped to us. Nutritionists like Sally Fallon argue that stuff like lard, eggs, and other high-fat foods are actually traditional nourishing foods. Diabetes is really related to when our ancestors switching from hunting diets to agriculture-based. I read the other night that the switch to wheat did little positive for our ancestors, and little for us!
I have had to go through all kinds of loops and hurdles to get treatment for illnesses with symptoms, sometimes ending up in emergency rooms for problems that some preventive-medicine freak ignored while hyping profitable screening.
I advocate that doctors who don"t want to treat REAL illness put signs on their doors that say, "I specialize in preventive medicine, like blood pressure, cholesterol, and cancer screenings. I do not treat illnesses with symptoms. I will refer you to a psychiatrists for illnesses with symptoms."
I am a 62 year old woman diagnosed with a Chronic DVE and Blood Clotting Disorder back in 1996. I ate healthy, exercises, walked and lifted weights everyday until this horrible episode in my life. I will have to take coumadin for the rest of my life because my blood is so thick and doctors don't want a blood clot dislodging itself an causing an aneurysm. I stopped taking coumading for 2 years and then I had a reoccurence of my DVT which caused me to have high blood pressure. Now, not only do I take coumadin, but blood pressure medication. My blood pressure has shot up as high as 200/168. If anyone out there knows a good doctor, please let me know.
I also have a blood clotting disorder that was discovered after I had a stroke at 62. It's called APS for short (google it for good information). I was also a health nut before this all happened and still am. I also need to take Warfarin (generic for Coumadin) for life. So I do it religiously, get tested for dosage once a month at my local hospital. It is dangerous at this point to just go off the medication. Good Luck to you and God bless.
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