7 Ways to Cut Your Healthcare Costs
With the staggering cost of health-related expenses, an ounce of prevention is still better than a pound of cure
By Arlyn W. Cheng, LUTCF,CIS
A financial plan cannot be complete without taking into consideration protecting the health of your most valuable asset – YOURSELF. As they say, “health is wealth,” and maintaining one’s health is more important than accumulating money, which could be wiped out by a single hospitalization or a prolonged critical illness. This may eventually leave your loved ones with huge financial obligations.
It is estimated that a patient will spend an average of P90,655.43 for a period of 7.7 days of hospitalization due to a heart attack and P166,754.40 for a total of 11.9 days of hospitalization due to stroke. These cover hospital confinement, tests, and professional fees and do not include the cost of complications, disease progression, and disability, according to the Pfizer Philippines Web site (www.pfizer.com.ph).
With rising medical costs, health protection cannot be ignored. We need to think of ways to avoid the damaging financial effects of hospitalization and general health care. We have heard of people on a collision course with financial ruin when faced with piling medical obligations.
Here are some tips you can consider to save on healthcare cost:
TIP #1: SET A BUDGET
With the pressures of daily living, staying healthy is not easy. Do you set aside a certain amount of your income for healthcare or for an emergency fund? The issue is that we can’t tell how much to set aside for medical emergencies nor can we tell when a medical emergency will happen. Other than the anxiety of incurring an illness, it’s the financial burden of having to pay for the cost of consultation fees, laboratory examinations, hospitalization, and medication.
A better approach would be to supplement your emergency fund with health insurance or HMO that is suitable for your needs. With HMO coverage, you know exactly how much premium you need to set aside from your income to take care of at least one year coverage.
Review your existing coverage. What medical services are covered and not covered? How much is the maximum benefit? Does it include your dependents? Some members of the family who are working may already have company-provided health benefits.
In order to ascertain sufficiency of your coverage, assess the risks you are exposed to. Among the factors to consider are age, gender, occupation, earning capacity, place of work, residence, and lifestyle. You can fill in the gaps through the various health insurance providers in the market. However, you need to check the firm’s financial stability. According to Roberto Arroyo, Philamcare’s Senior Vice President for Sales & Marketing, the measure of an excellent HMO is how its service capabilities and competencies are able to satisfy the needs of its members. He adds, “A medical emergency can happen anytime, and the ability of the service provider to actively coordinate the service delivery so the member gets the required health service without delay is a responsibility that Philamcare strives to maintain.”
HMO coverage will generally provide most of the medical benefits for in-patient, outpatient care, preventive health care, emergency treatment, annual physical examination, and some coverage for sophisticated medical procedures. Some HMOs have optional benefits like dental care and term life insurance. The thrust of HMOs is preventive, hence the emphasis on annual physical check-ups and regular consultations. Screening tests for various diseases and vaccines are also available. Medical expense coverage is within their accredited hospital or institutional network.
However, you need to review the provisions of the contract for limitations, excluded risks, or maximum amount of coverage depending on the plan and company you are dealing with. Pre-existing illnesses are generally subject to exclusions for individual accounts. Take note that there is a limit in eligibility ages. Once you reach your senior years, it is a sad fact that you could no longer be eligible for coverage when you need it most. HMOs can only provide coverage up to a certain age. By that time, your medical needs and expenses would have started to pile up. The question is: Do you have the financial resources to cover for these?
The alternative to HMOs is health insurance, which generally extends coverage to seniors. For instance, Philamlife announced the launching of a health insurance product called Health 100, which is a limited pay health insurance product with no annual premium increase that provides a wide range of benefits that covers you until age 100. Aside from living benefits like daily hospital income, outpatient cash, and surgical allowance, there are additional benefits for critical illness and long term hospitalization as well as intensive care confinement. It also offers cash benefits to cover for medical needs at an advanced age and a unique feature for heart disease and female cancer. Remember, it is wiser to hedge for one’s medical needs.
TIP #2: WATCH YOUR WEIGHT
Here, we tackle the issue of obesity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity is a major risk factor for chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. Sleep apnea can also be caused by obesity. Obese people are also susceptible to osteoarthritis because the additional pressure needed to support excess weight causes the joints like ankles, knees, and hips to be weaker. Obesity is not just about overeating. Genetics, hereditary background, and environmental factors are contributing factors which predisposes a person to obesity.
As much as possible, avoid dietary supplements, herbal diet pills, and slimming teas that promise amazing results. In 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that certain substances in dietary supplements raised serious safety issues at certain concentrations. These quick-fix remedies can have various side effects ranging from dryness in the mouth and excessive sweating to loose bowel movement and dehydration. Medical complications could also arise. So, before you buy any health supplement, read the label and product information. Check the credentials of the manufacturer behind it. To determine the value of a health product or treatment, it is safer to consult a health professional. In recent years, liposuction and other medical intervention procedures have gained popularity. As long as it is under close medical supervision of a licensed and well-trained doctor, procedures like these are generally safe. However, don’t consider them a panacea. Strategies such as changing your lifestyle, better eating habits, a balanced diet, and exercise under the supervision of professionals are still the best way to lose weight.
TIP #3: EXERCISE
One of the most neglected aspects of health is proper exercise. According to Fitness First Manila’s Operations Manager Richard Manansala, to reap the benefits of proper exercise, one must have the discipline to set the time to do workouts. The physical benefits of exercise are numerous: it helps burn off those excess carbohydrates, increases HDL (the good cholesterol), promotes good bones and joint stability, tones muscles, lowers blood pressure, and boosts the immune system. Mentally, exercise gives you the natural high of feeling better.
You can do combination aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, jogging, dancing, swimming, and cycling which provide a good cardiovascular workout. You can also go for strength training which concentrates on toning the muscles, increasing strength, and maintaining or increasing lean muscle tissue. An increase in muscles stimulates metabolism. As your body becomes more efficient in burning calories, you’ll find it easier to lose weight.
Flexibility training increases blood flow to the muscles which results in improved circulation (source: Fitness First’s BODYFIRST book). You can do all of these training under the supervision of a fitness trainer. Fitness trainers recommend that you do exercises at least three times a week. If you have any medical problems, get a clearance from your doctor before embarking on an exercise program.
TIP #4: HYDRATE
Remember how our teachers used to tell us to drink eight glasses of water a day? Proper hydration is essential for good health and biological processes. The body performs better when hydrated. At Fitness First, members are encouraged to take fluids prior to, during, and after exercises. When the weather is hot, we need to replace lost fluids due to perspiration.
In his book Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, Dr. F. Batmanghelidj tells us of the curative powers of water which can treat several conditions. Water makes cellular operations, such as metabolism and clearance of toxins more efficient. When properly and skilfully applied, water treatments are very effective in relieving pain, washing away tensions, soothing the body after hard work, and regulating blood circulation. Water therapy is done to rehabilitate a specific area of the body that has been injured or is causing pain. It also helps in the treatment of arthritis and other debilitating conditions.
TIP #5: TRY GENERIC DRUGS
With the skyrocketing cost of branded medicines, the average Filipinos could not afford to buy them, thereby curtailing or delaying treatment, prevention, and control of illnesses. Thus, the Generics Act of 1988 was enacted to promote, require, and ensure the production of an adequate supply, distribution, use, and acceptance of drug and medicines identified by their generic names.
Furthermore, the Department of Health (DOH) and Philhealth embarked in a strategy called Drug Price Reference Index (DPRI) to promote price transparency. Because of this, many Filipinos are now empowered to choose generics when making purchasing decisions. They can compare prices among different brands and manufacturers. According to Benjamin Liuson, President of The Generics Pharmacy, “The Generic Law requires generics to have the same quality, strength, purity, and stability as their branded variants, but for a fraction of the latter’s price.” What you save from medicines can be allocated for your family’s other needs.
TIP #6: RELAX
Studies show that stress is a major cause of illnesses that makes you more prone to infections and unduly strains your heart and immune system. Hence, reducing stress can lead to significant and long term health benefits. Going to a spa helps lessen those medical appointments in an inexpensive way. Massage increases blood circulation, boosts the immune system, and detoxifies the body.
Another inexpensive way to lower your risk of getting sick is to enliven your loving relationships. When you feel loved and nurtured, you are much more likely to be happier and healthier. Satisfying relationships are valuable for better physical health and longevity, resulting in lower risk of dying from major diseases, according to John Gottman, Ph.D., a prominent psychologist.
TIP #7: MAINTAIN A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
A healthy lifestyle consists of a nutritious and balanced diet, appropriate physical exercise, no cigarette smoking, minimal alcohol consumption, clean sex, and making the necessary lifestyle changes. Staying healthy is a lifetime endeavour, a conscious choice we make everyday.
In the end, prevention only works if we take responsibility for our health and make the right decisions in our own lives. We need to keep a tight rein of the major risk factors. Most diseases are preventable if only people will decide to have a sound fitness program and focus on a lifestyle shift. As they say, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” If you already have an existing illness, then it is best to comply with your physician’s order. Life is great! Let’s strive to achieve a better quality of life!