In spite of the falling dollar, lackluster economy, and various other problems hounding the United States, its quality of health care is still among the best in the world. But like most other things, it comes with a considerable number of restrictions. If you have health insurance coverage, the benefit limitations are spelled out in your policy. However, you can still exercise control over a significant amount of your health care costs. Here are a few pointers:

Use pre-tax income to plan ahead for your health care needs. First, before anyone of your family gets hurt or sick, study your insurance benefits package carefully to see whether you're offered a flexible spending account, or FSA. If so, be sure to take advantage of this opportunity to set aside pre-tax dollars from your paycheck to fund medical expenses over the next year. You'll have to decide in advance how much you want withheld over the full twelve months; use your out-of-pocket expenses from recent years as a basis for this estimation. Then, when necessarily, pay your covered out-of-pocket costs from the FSA. In this manner, you're avoiding paying taxes on that money – and every dollar saved is a dollar earned.

Choose your service providers prudently. When you or a member of your family needs care, if at all possible stay within your insurance coverage's network. In fact, familiarize yourself in advance with the list of available doctors, specialists, and hospitals. Keep in mind also that many services initiated in your primary caregiver's office are ultimately outsourced. Therefore, try to ensure that your films are read by a network radiologist, your lab results are evaluated by a member pathologist, and your anesthesia is administered by a specialist inside the network. If you don't, the fees for such non-network-provided services might be denied by your insurer, leaving you responsible for the bill.

When necessary, negotiate fees for care. When you have no choice other than to go beyond your insurance network, negotiate the fees. Ask your insurance company what they will pay for the service that you need. Then inform your non-network provider of the limit and ask them to honor it. If the office- or business manager refuses, speak directly to the doctor about it at your next opportunity (providers routinely "write off" or "adjust" charges that aren't covered by insurance).

And speaking of discussions with your doctor, develop the habit of being proactive; in other words, you direct the conversation. The vast majority of health care providers prefer to care for patients who willingly report their symptoms in detail and come prepared with a list of relevant questions and concerns. Ask your questions early on during the visit, while you have the provider's full attention, and don't let him or her leave until you feel comfortable that you know everything you need to know. Furthermore, provide as much help as you can by also bringing a list of all your medications, with their dosages. Don't think that you'll be taking up too much of the doctor's time; in fact, you'll discover that this process is indeed more focused and purposeful and, thus, actually saves time for both of you.

Be proactive about your prescriptions, too. Pharmacies don't all charge the same price for a particular drug, so look for a reputable licensed pharmacy that offers lower prices in general. Remember also that all medications have a generic equivalent, although the generic version is not always readily available. When it is, however, your out-of-pocket cost can be less than half of that for the brand name drug. Frequent a pharmacy that regularly offers generics, and remind the pharmacist that the lower-priced alternative is your preference.

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