How can I improve my health, prevent future health issues and reduce my health care costs?
There are numerous things you can do on your own to improve your health, prevent future issues and reduce the cost of your health-care coverage. Take a look!
Don't smoke or use tobacco and limit alcohol consumption. Smoking causes 440,000 deaths in the United States every year. More preventable illnesses (such as emphysema, mouth, throat and lung cancer and heart disease) are caused by tobacco use than by anything else. If you do smoke, you should check into obtaining help to kick the habit. Limiting your alcohol intake means no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. One drink is equal to a can of beer (12 ounces), a four-ounce glass of wine or one ounce of liquor. Too much alcohol can damage the liver and contribute to some cancers, such as throat and liver cancer.
Maintain a healthy weight through exercise. Being obese can add as much as $395 each year to the average $1,500-per-year health care cost. Exercise can help prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis and depression. It can also help prevent colon cancer, stroke and back injury. You'll feel better and keep your weight under control if you exercise regularly.
Seek out free or low-cost health screenings, checkups and services. Does your HMO offer free blood pressure checks? Low-cost flu shots or classes on nutrition, dieting and physical fitness? Take advantage of these lifestyle programs to help you stay healthy and reduce your doctor visits and medications.
Eat healthy. Heart disease, certain cancers, stroke, diabetes and damage to your arteries can be linked to what you eat. By making healthier food choices, you can also lower your cholesterol and lose weight.
Do not sunbathe or use tanning booths. Sun exposure is linked to skin cancer, which is the most common type of cancer in the United States. It's best to limit sun exposure; wear sunscreen and wear protective clothing and hats when you are outside. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and one that blocks both UVA and UVB light.
Practice safe sex. The safest sex is between two people who are only having sex with each other and who don't have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or share needles to inject drugs. Use latex condoms and a spermicidal gel or cream. Talk with your doctor about being tested each year for STIs.
Maintain a healthy cholesterol level. If your cholesterol level is high, keep it down by eating right and exercising regularly. You can also decrease your cholesterol level by limiting how much cholesterol you eat and by quitting smoking.
Control high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases your risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. To control it, lose weight, exercise, eat less sodium, drink less alcohol, don't smoke, and take medicine if your doctor prescribes it.
Keep your shots up to date. Adults need a tetanus-diphtheria booster every 10 years. Your doctor may substitute one Td booster with Tdap, which protects you against pertussis (whooping cough). You should also get a flu shot each year. Ask your doctor whether you need other shots or vaccines.
Females should perform breast self-exams and undergo professional breast exams and obtain regular Pap smears. Breast cancer is the second most common cause of death for women. Have your doctor check your breasts every 1 to 2 years until you're 40. After age 40, you should have a yearly clinical exam and a mammogram. Cancer of the cervix in women can be detected by regular Pap smears. Start having them when you begin having sex or by age 18 and continue annually.
Ask your doctor about other cancer screenings. Adults over age 50 should ask their doctor about being checked for colorectal cancer. Men over age 50 should discuss with their doctor the risks and benefits of being screened for prostate cancer.
Get an annual physical examination. Health screenings are replacing the annual physical. Instead of every person getting the same examinations and tests, only the appropriate ones are given. Talk to your family doctor about your risk factors and what tests and exams are right for you.
Reduce your pharmacy costs. Ask your doctor for free samples of any drugs prescribed. Major store chains offer low flat-rate prices for generic prescription drugs: Wal-Mart and Target have lists of prescriptions available for $4. Most drug manufacturers provide medications for free or at a reduced cost to people who qualify for their patient assistance programs.
Take advantage of tax breaks. Flexible spending accounts (FSAs), health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and medical savings accounts (MSAs) are becoming more readily available. One of the most popular is the FSA, an employer-sponsored account that offers you a way to pay for certain out-of-pocket health care or dependent care costs on a pre-tax basis. Also, dental and vision care count as reimbursable medical expenses under FSA arrangements.
Understand your health insurance plan's rules and follow them. There are thousands of different health insurance plans nationwide and each one is different. You could end up paying a great deal more for your health care by not understanding and following the rules of your specific plan.
Coordinate your family's health insurance plans. Dual coverage can be expensive. If both you and your spouse maintain group health coverage, make sure it makes financial sense to pay premiums for both. You don't want to pay more than you'll get back in benefits by having duplicate coverage.
Raise your deductible or co-payment. Whenever possible and financially practical, lower your monthly health insurance premium by raising your deductible or co-payment.
Plan for unforeseen emergencies. You should know which nearby hospitals belong to your health plan's network of providers. If you can't locate this information during an emergency, call the 24-hour help line number listed on the back of your insurance card.