Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cutting Your Medical Bills in Half

Okay, we cheated on this one, big time.

But I'll explain how my family cut it's medical bills in half. Actually, we probably pay a quarter or less for medical bills than we used to pay.

It's simple - move to Canada.

I know, I know, that's not very simple. I do know - I did it and went through the hell that is immigration. It's not simple at all. First you have to look long and hard for a Canadian to marry. A Canadian that isn't marrying you for the coveted American green card. You have to marry a Canadian that (secretly) wants to go back to Canada and take you with him. (But that's another story....)

How does health care work up here?

Basically, you pay a monthly fee based on your income. You might not pay anything, or you might pay a few hundred a month. Currently, for six of us, our monthly fee is $106.00.

What do you get for that?

All doctor's visits are free. Most emergency services, operations, etc. are free. I think you pay for the ambulance and you might have to pay for some services, but so far I never have had to do that.

You do pay for prescriptions, eye care and dental bills. Some employers have plans for these like the ones you get in the US.

What all this means for my family is that I take the kids in when they're sick instead of waiting for it to get really serious. I never drive to the emergency room wondering if I'm about to go bankrupt. Things were a lot different for me when I lived in the United States.

Once, when the kids were little my son had a febrile seizure - a seizure brought on by a high fever. He was raced to the hospital by ambulance where he had a series of tests involving all sorts of expensive, high-tech equipment. The good news was that he was fine. The bad news came in the mail a couple of weeks later - all told, the bill was over $20,000. It literally brought me to my knees.

So what's the answer if you can't move to Canada? Start by doing your research. Make sure you know all your options for medical care. And purchase medical insurance based on the likelihood of using it. A single guy needs less insurance than a family with small children does. Having to foot the bill for a single large medical procedure can wipe out any savings you accrue from not purchasing insurance at all.

Use preventive care whenever possible. You know this stuff, right? Don't drink excessively. Stop smoking. Exercise. REST. When you're sick, stay home in bed until you're better. Consider getting a flu shot.

Look at all your medical bills and question them. Mistakes are made all the time. If you or someone in your family has an ongoing condition, think of this as a part-time job. The more visits you are billed for, the greater the likelihood of errors.

Don't be afraid to use generic drugs and to call around to pharmacies to check their prices. Why not? You compare costs for other things?

And if you are thinking of moving, switching jobs, and so on, take the cost of medical care into account. Some states have better plans than others if your employer doesn't offer you a plan. Some states have better COBRA policies, too. It's worth taking into account.

How am I going to cut my medical bills in half? Hmmm - here in Canada my main choice would be to stop earning so much money. That doesn't sound so great. So I guess my plan is simply to keep my family as healthy as possible so that we don't have to pay extra bills.


Hillary said...

OK, I'm asking this out of curiosity, not to start anything. Have you had anyone in your family go through a major illness? A parent, or a child dealing with cancer?

I ask this because I know several Canadian ex-pats in the US, and every single one of them have said that for normal everyday things, the Canadian health care system was fine. But for serious, long-term issues it was a horrible experience. Three families I know of simply brought their parents to the States for care, because of speedier, more comprehensive treatment.

Do Canadians who've seen a spouse, child, or parent through a 2 years of lymphoma treatment rave about the system as much as young families do?

Jennifer said...

Well, first of all, no one raves about the medical system either here or in the US as far as I've ever heard. (Of course, I've lived in the US a lot longer than here.)

Each system has pluses and minuses.

I don't have the answer to how you solved the medical system in either area, either, unfortunately.

I think the point that most of us miss is that you can't have top-notch health care for everyone. There simply aren't enough resources to go around. In the US system we've decided that those that can pay get top-notch care while some other people get just about no care at all.

Here in Canada the decision was that everyone gets some care, but everyone also has to wait for procedures and you can't "buy" top-notch care.

If you are poor, the Canadian system is probably better for you. If you are rich, the US one is. If you're in the middle, you're screwed no matter what.

L Harris said...

LOL, Jennifer! You are right. Both my parents have had issues. My dad fell off a horse. (I'm Canadian) And my mom has fibro. Before my parents issues, they never even considered buying extra insurance. I'm one of four and we were all generally healthy, so the health care system here was enough for us. Now, having to pay for ambulance and meds and extended stays, my parents will never be without that extra insurance.

My DH and I have decided the same. We never know when something might come up. We have homebirths and if anything goes wrong the ambulance trip for baby and me would be too much for us to handle, so we have the extra care. We've been in that spot, and been blessed by my dh's fire department that footed the bill for us, but we don't want to be in that position again.

I believe it is a matter of doing what you can for your family. And really looking in to all the options in your state/province and country.

DH has a job now that pays half his extra insurance and the half comes off his cheque. We just recently added to to that coverage. Also, there is a program, at least here in Alberta, that (based on earnings) supplies for our children's medical needs to 100% coverage, using the standard coverage and dh's coverage first. (I hope that makes sense.) This extra coverage by the gov't for lower income families, includes dental, eyes, 'scripts, ambulance, etc.

Knowledge is power! Be informed.