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13 Ways to Lower Health Expenses

Tips to get the most for your money from your health insurance and Medicare plans

Tips from Holly Phillips, internist and medical contributor for CBS News:

1. Switch to generic drugs. The price is usually lower, as well as the copay.

2. Don't smoke. Cigarette smokers pay more for insurance and require more medications and doctors visits. Cigarette smoking costs the United States up to $333 billion annually, including at least $130 billion in health care costs.

3. Ask about independent facilities for radiologic tests. Having an MRI at a hospital costs an average of $1,200, but the same procedure at independent radiologic facilities costs about half that.

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4. Take advantage of wellness benefits. Many employers offer incentives for participation in exercise and other health programs.

5. Take your medications regularly. Many costly hospital visits are for conditions (like asthma or high blood pressure) that were managed well with medications until they worsened when the patients skipped doses.

6. Eat veggies. Vegetable intake is inversely correlated with diabetes incidence. And diabetes drives up insurance costs. The more colorful your veggies, the better.

Tips from Patricia Barry, AARP Media editor and author of Medicare for Dummies:

Pat Barry, 99 Ways to Save

Christopher Lane

AARP author Patricia Barry.

7. Sign up for Medicare at the right time. Missing your deadline could cost a lot in late penalties, which would be added to your premiums for all future years.

8. Pick a prescription drug plan wisely, according to the drugs you take. Plans charge different copays — sometimes varying by more than $100 a month for the same drug. To compare costs, go to Medicare's website or call 800-633-4227.

9. Check out programs that reduce Medicare costs. If your income is low, you may qualify for a Medicare Savings Program (under which states pay premiums and other expenses) and/or low-cost drug coverage under Part D's Extra Help program. For details call Social Security at 800-772-1213 or go to Social Security's website.

10. Choose the right doctor. A physician who accepts Medicare "on assignment" cannot charge more than the Medicare-approved amount. Otherwise, your share of the cost can be up to 15 percent greater. Medicare pays nothing if you see a doctor who has opted out of the program.

11. Read the Annual Notice of Change in which your Medicare Advantage or Part D drug plan lists all its changes for the following year, then compare it with other plans during open enrollment and consider switching to another that gives you a better deal.

Nancy Metcalf, 99 Ways to Save

Pete Pezzella

"Consumer Reports" senior editor Nancy Metcalf.

Tips from Nancy Metcalf, senior editor, Consumer Reports:

12. Register on your health insurer's website. Many allow you to look up in-network prices of common services, which can vary by a factor of two or three depending on the provider.

13. If your health plan has high prescription copays, check to see whether you could get a better price paying cash at a major pharmacy chain or warehouse store.

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