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5 ways to cut costs while staying healthy

Consumer Reports News: April 08, 2008 04:58 PM

The government may not want to use the "R" word, but there’s no question that the economy is in trouble. It's affecting all of us and causing us to tighten our belts. When it comes to medical care, telltale signs come early. Reports of increasing numbers of elective surgeries have been attributed to fear of potential loss of insurance coverage, similar to when rumors of company cutbacks surface. Routine and preventive care visits decline, and in my practice, I see more patients forgoing referrals to physical therapy because of the frequent co-pays.

Taking care of your health during a recession poses quite a challenge. If you’re healthy, you want to stay that way, and if not, you want to make sure that your treatment is not jeopardized. So what can you trim without sacrificing quality? Consumer Reports has a wealth of information on how to get the best value when it comes to your health.

  • Ask your doctor about pill splitting. It can save money because pharmacies often charge the same amount for a particular drug regardless of its dose. There’s no harm in splitting pills as long as your doctor agrees with the idea, you learn how to do it properly, you split only pills that are scored, never split extended- or continued-release tablets, and use a safe pill splitting device, available at most pharmacies for around $5.
  • Look into a prescription assistance program. If you need medicines (especially for a chronic condition) and have no health insurance, limited insurance, or lack drug coverage under your current health insurance policy you may qualify for assistance.
  • Consider switching to a generic prescription drug. Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs can help you find the most safe and effective drug for your condition and give you the best value for your health. Not only are generic medications proven and more affordable alternatives, but the newest brand name drugs have less of a track record for safety.
  • Put your fancy gym club membership on hold. As the Consumer Reports survey on health clubs showed, you can pay up to $95 per month for name brand chains and still not get a quality experience. Try out your local Y or community center—which got higher marks in our survey than most big chains—or change some habits: take the stairs, park at a distance, walk the dog. As an inexpensive pedometer shows, those steps soon add up.
  • Shop smart. Although it’s tempting to reach for inexpensive processed foods on the supermarket shelf, resist the temptation. It’s important to remember to eat healthy foods including fresh fruits and vegetables. Warehouse club supermarkets fared very well in terms of price on the 2005 Consumer Reports Grocery Store Shopper Survey of 24,000 respondents. Those that gave our readers the biggest bang for the buck (subscribers only) were Aldi, WinCo, Trader Joe’s, Market Basket, Cost­co, Shoppers Food Warehouse, Wal-Mart, and Stater Bros. (These chains are a good choice if your top concern is low prices, and service and the quality of meat, produce, and fresh-baked goods are less important.) Use the FDA’s free nutritional label training program to find information that will help you stay healthy by selecting the right foods when you shop.

—Orly Avitzur, M.D., medical adviser to Consumers Union

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