Sande Kaskel doesn’t see herself as a bargain shopper. But last year the Hollywood resident saved big on prescription drug costs, just by comparing pharmacies and asking for a better deal.
“I saved $500 just by being a good consumer and knowing to ask about prices,” said Kaskel, owner of Kaskel and Associates Insurance, which specializes in employee benefits.
With President Obama’s healthcare law putting a spotlight on the uncertain health insurance landscape, and a weak economy spurring layoffs and an increase in the loss of health benefits, consumers are becoming more price sensitive about out-of-pocket medical costs. The total cost of healthcare for a typical family of four covered by a preferred provider plan (PPO) is about 20 percent higher in Miami than the national average, according to the Millman Medical Index. In 2012, the average American family will spend $20,728 at the pharmacy and on inpatient and outpatient care, an increase of 6.9 percent over 2011. In Miami, a family of four will spend about $24,965.
Nationally, healthcare costs have continued to outpace wages and the inflation rate, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. From 1999 to 2011, family premiums for employer-sponsored insurance increased 160 percent, while wages went up 50 percent and inflation has gone up 38 percent.
While the situation may seem dire, there are steps consumers can take to lower their out-of-pocket costs. Whether it’s prescription drugs, medical tests or even routine healthcare, consumers today are finding an informed shopper gets the best deal.
A generation ago, a patient would have never questioned a doctor’s orders, said Penny Shaffer, market manager for Florida Blue, formerly Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida. Now, armed with apps, websites and cost comparisons, patients are not only more educated about healthcare choices, but about the costs involved.
Here are some tips from the experts about how to be a savvy shopper while taking care of your health:
Know your coverage
“For the insured, the biggest mistake is not understanding what your benefits are and what your contract covers,” Shaffer said. The average consumer doesn’t understand the difference between network and non-network providers, or how their deductible is met. “Most people go in as uninformed consumers,” she said. “Make sure you understand the benefit structure, how your personal choices can affect your health costs, how to best use your deductible and when co-insurance kicks in.”
Santiago Leon, an employee benefits specialist with ACC Insurance Brokers in Miami, said most insurance companies have online tools that will help you compare procedure costs by location and see performance statistics such as readmission rates and complications. If you have health insurance, go to your insurer’s website to see what tools it offers, he said.
Where to seek care
Here’s the order to save you the most money, Shaffer said:
1. Your regular doctor.
2. Walk-in clinics at drugstores and groceries, which usually accept insurance and have their prices posted.
3. Urgent care centers.
4. ER — unless an emergency situation requires it.
Clinics linked to universities also can be a source for low-cost care. For example, Nova Southeastern University in Davie operates 20 South Florida clinics offering medical, dental, and optometric care, among other services. For information, visit www.nova.edu/healthcare/index.html.