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Wednesday, November 05, 2008 9:00 AM

Nagivating Health Care: Keeping Healthy When the Economy is Not

Rand: How do you stay healthy when the economy is not? Many Americans are looking for ways to save money; some even considering ways to cut personal health care costs. But how can you do that without hurting your health? AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn Clancy is with us to tackle the tough questions. Dr. Clancy, thank you so much for being with us.

Dr. Clancy: Thank you.

Rand: Is it true that people - everyday Americans - are looking at ways to cut their own personal health care costs?

Dr. Clancy: Well, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation Survey showed nearly a third of American families say they’ve had problems paying medical bills over the past year. I’ve personally heard many examples of people skipping medicines, not refilling prescriptions and not seeing their doctors, as a way to save money. As a physician, I worry when I hear these stories. Cutting back on health care, especially without consulting your doctor, is a risky choice. And it could end up costing you more, in financial terms as well as your overall health.

Rand: Are there any areas of health care where people are being especially risky?

Dr. Clancy: Yes, it is extremely risky to play with your medications. It can be harmful to stop taking medicines that have been prescribed by a doctor. Likewise, people should never try to extend the life of a prescription by skipping doses or cutting pills in half. It’s also unwise to borrow someone else’s medicine. Never take medications that haven’t been prescribed to you.

Rand: Well, are there some areas where people can cut back?

Dr. Clancy: Possibly. For example, there are some health care services can be safely skipped or delayed. Not all tests or screenings are absolutely necessary. And not all health care appointments are essential. But the take-home message here is that you should not make these decisions on your own. Talk to your doctor - someone who knows your health circumstances and can help you take quality and value into account while making decisions about your health care.

Rand: Dr. Clancy, are there any other tips for those feeling the crunch?

Dr. Clancy: Well, when it comes to medication costs, one option would be talking to your doctor about switching to generic medications. Also, look into programs that might be available in your community to help with medication and other health care expenses. Know what’s available and how to use it to your advantage. Also, if you have health insurance, take a good look at your policy. Does it meet your needs? Are you taking advantage of options such as flexible spending accounts? These are a good way to pay for those out-of-pocket expenses with pre-tax dollars. And, finally, don’t forget the everyday healthy lifestyle choices. Being physically active, eating right, maintaining a healthy weight, are all important strategies to maintaining good health. I’m Dr. Carolyn Clancy and that’s my advice for navigating the health care system.

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