Medical costs. Where to begin? How it got so expensive over the years because of a tight game of politics and controversial corporation strategies? How drug companies got the right to be the sole distributors of a drug they’d invent for 20 years, giving them the power to exploit their customers for it? How were drug companies allowed to set unregulated prices for their drugs?
Well, I could go into detail about all of these things and essentially lay down the timeline of events that led to the escalated prices of health in the US, but to the ordinary citizen of Baltimore, all of these details may be intriguing but essentially useless. The system isn’t going to change overnight and, given that it hasn’t changed for the last couple of decades they’ve been in place, one cannot hope for positive change in the distant future either. The most we normal folk can do is find a way to survive in this system without losing all our money to the financially draining health industry. And the best strategy by far is Health Insurance.
Now health insurance may be our lifeline to surviving in this system, but that doesn’t mean it can’t become another tool the system can’t use to exploit us. This has become even more apparent in the past few years, as we’ve seen an overall rise in the cost of health insurance. Chalk it up to inflation or corporate greed; the fact remains that for the average salaryman this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
That is for those of us who can’t work around the system to figure out a way to pay less than you’d be required to while at the same time getting all the necessary benefits we need.
That’s right, affordable quality health insurance exists, and though it requires a little work and research on your part, all those extra dollars saved up by a few hours of study can compensate for the work put in, and then some. So, if you’re a Baltimore resident, how can you get affordable health insurance?
Some general tips to follow to save money
Before I get into describing the different programs that can actually help you save a lot of money from in your hospital bills and then moving on to the inexpensive, quality health insurance providers, some general rules of thumb apply to almost everyone, and that can help anyone save money with health insurance. Take a look:
- Research extensively before selecting a plan:
Don’t just select the first insurance plan in your budget! Look up the competition and compare and analyze. Understand and weigh everything being offered to you in a plan and isolate things that would be of no use to you.
- Search extensively for discounts:
This may sound extreme, but you should ask every person in the medical industry for a discount. Ask your doctor, your pharmacist, review government policies to see if you’re eligible for one, surf a drug manufacturer’s website for discounts; anything that might shave a few dollars off the final total will help you here.
- Choose the right type of plan for your needs:
If budget is a real concern, you should opt for an HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) which would let you access a larger network of doctors at lower rates than a PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) insurance would. Also, consider choosing a high-deductible plan if you have savings and go to the doctor very infrequently since it would help you save a lot on monthly premiums.
- Don’t be brand conscious:
Drugs aren’t like shoes so buying them from a lesser known company isn’t going to get you poor quality medicine (since all medicine is strictly regulated). That’s why when your doctor prescribes you a drug ask him if there’s a cheaper, effective variant in the market. More often than not, the answer will be yes.
- Cut out extra expenses:
For every bill, you’re handed vigilantly check it for mistakes (more common than you’d think) to make sure you don’t pay extra. Also, ask your doctor to prescribe only the most necessary of tests. Again, paying for only what you need.
- Get help with choosing a plan:
The best advice about whether a plan is good for you or not can only be given by a professional (health insurance broker) or someone who’s already experienced it. Take their advice before selecting the plan you feel is right; maybe they can point out something major about the plan you’ve overlooked.
- Take care of yourself:
If you don’t get sick, then you won’t have to pay a lot for medicine. So, make healthy decisions and try to stay healthy as much as you can. Even the smallest of changes in your daily routine can go a long way.
Healthcare Programs you can take advantage of
Apart from insurance plans (discussed later) which you have to PAY to take advantage of, there are some government or NGO funded programs you can take advantage to help pay your academic bills. These programs range in their scope and how much they can cover your costs and as to whether or not you’ll be eligible for one, but if you find one can cover your medical cost, then you should apply for it.
In Baltimore (or the rest of Maryland) in particular, three major programs could help you out in this regard. The front-runners in this category are the government funded plans Medicare and Medicaid, both of which are applicable in the state of Maryland. The former provides free or low premium insurance to elderly citizens (over 65) or people with disabilities or certain medical conditions, while the latter covers an entire basic health insurance plan for a family that earns below a certain level of income each year. So, that if you qualify for either one of the two, you should use them to cover all your medical costs.
If you and your children meet a few requirements, you may be able to get your children eligible for the Maryland Children’s Health Program (MCHP), which not only provides your children with low-cost or free medical care but also comes with the benefit of routine check-ups, dental care, and free immunizations.
Another somewhat helpful program you might be eligible for is the Primary Adult Care (PAC) program, one that’s free to sign up for (if you’re eligible that is), has no monthly premiums, and can help you pay for your medical care and drug prescriptions in the form of co-payments.
However, it needs to be remembered that these programs can only be considered as stand-ins for health insurance at best. Because if you require a plan that covers specific needs, or wants a physician of your choice for example, then the only way to go is to get yourself a proper health insurance plan. Now, buying full-fledged health insurance will cost you, but if you choose the right plan and the right company, it might just be well within your budget after all.
Health Insurance companies that provide relatively inexpensive plans
Ever get frustrated by the ambiguity of medical bills, i.e., never being told exactly how much you’re paying for until you’ve actually used it (and sometimes being kept in the dark even after you receive the bill). Well, if you buy an insurance plan with Aetna, you won’t have to worry about this anymore. The company works VERY closely with the health care system to make sure their clients get the treatments they need at a price they’re comfortable paying. A good choice if you’re looking for a health insurance provider that cares for its clients and goes out of its way to establish contact with you and your medical team.
If you’re looking to get short-term health insurance while you work out the kinks of moving to a new city, or till you get a better job to support yourself, Golden Rule may be the company for you. A well-established provider, they cater well to those people who are just getting on their own feet and so reach out mostly to people like part-time employees, international students at universities and even fresh graduates, with plans that can cater to individuals and families. Worth checking out if you’re looking for a short-term fix to your medical issue.
Cigna is one of those health insurance providers who firmly believe in the mantra “Precaution is better than the cure,” which is why they go out of their way to make sure their clients stay healthy outside of the hospital just as well as they do when a client does, unfortunately, end up in one. They even have a dedicated drug prescription plan (Cigna PDP) that varies according to the location you live in, to help you get the drugs you need at the lowest possible prices.
Want special attention given to your budget when drawing up your health insurance plan? Then why not check out CareFirst, a company that can offer you plans based on different budgets, services free of charge and even incentives for signing up for some programs. They offer one of the widest coverages for health care in Maryland, with plans for everything you could need from basic medical to dental, to even vision care.
In the end, if you look hard enough, you will be able to find some plan or program to help you save money on healthcare. Even if you’re not able to find any suitable program or insurance plan, following simple tips like the ones written above will result in you saving quite a lot of money. So maybe we’re not as bad off as we thought we were after all.