How I Keep Health Care Costs Under Control

 Posted by on October 28, 2008  Add comments  Tagged with:
Oct 282008

In response to my rant about the U.S. health care system, Molly asked:

“Heather, can you share with us some of the steps you have taken to lower your health care costs other than not going to the doctor?”

Well, I’ll try my best.

-First, I would like to recommend three excellent health care reference books, which I have referred to countless times:

Before You Call the Doctor: Safe, Effective Self-Care for Over 300 Common Medical Problems – this is a great book, and probably the one I refer to more than any other when trying to decide if one of us needs medical care. I bought this book 12 years ago at a used book store, and it’s been an invaluable reference. It offers safe and effective self care for over 300 common medical problems, and tells you what signs and symptoms warrant a trip to the doctor.

Smart Medicine for Healthier Living : Practical A-Z Reference to Natural and Conventional Treatments for Adults and Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child are also excellent books. What I like best about these is that they offer both traditional and alternative remedies for a wide range of common health problems. They cover herbal medicine, homeopathy, acupressure, Bach flower remedies, aromatherapy, nutrition, and nutritional supplements.

-I focus a lot on prevention. Good nutrition and hand washing help prevent many diseases. Our children, like most, don’t eat enough veggies, but we make sure that they get at least three servings of fruit, and a multivitamin each day. After school snack options are apples or bananas, graham crackers, 100% fruit leather, and sometimes air-popped popcorn. We rarely eat potato chips or other highly processed snack foods. We limit sugar consumption, and the kids must drink milk, 100% juice, or water…no pop. You’ll be proud of me – I decided no more Diet Coke in the house! Now if I want it, I have to drive somewhere to get it, so I’m less likely to glug it down like water. We also eat lots of homegrown vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and lowfat dairy products. We try to eat as healthfully as possible, while staying within our budget.

Because I have asthma, and am considered high risk for pneumonia, we all get flu shots in the fall, and though the kids object, we rarely take them to places like McDonald’s Playland or other kids’ play areas during cold and flu season. My husband has a standard answer when they ask why not – “because they’re germ factories.”

-When we do have to go to the doctor, I don’t just go along with whatever they want to do. I probably annoy them to death, but I ask a lot of questions. I tell them up front about our insurance situation, and if they want to order tests or X-rays, or prescribe drugs, I ask why. I want to know the purpose, and if there could be another alternative, before I just blindly agree and fork over hundreds of dollars. I reason that they’re working for me, and I have a right to know what I’m paying for.

-I ask for prescription samples and discounts. Doctors always have samples, which are given to them by drug companies for patient use. I buy prescriptions that we need regularly at Wal-Mart, which now fills all of ours except one, for a mere $4 a month. I keep a list of the $4 prescriptions in my Home Management Guide.

My dentist gives me a 10% discount because he doesn’t have to go through insurance, and it’s my understanding that many health care providers are open to this kind of arrangement. Don’t be afraid to ask!

-We get the girls’ immunizations at Public Health. For uninsured people, and people whose insurance does not cover well child care, the cost is only $5 per visit. If not for this program, the physical and immunizations required for Bee to enter public school would have cost us $1500.

Because our insurance doesn’t cover well child care, I weigh and measure the girls at home, and chart their growth myself. I downloaded growth charts here, and I keep them in the girls’ sections of my HMG. I also refer often to What to Expect the Toddler Years, to judge whether Cakes is meeting all of her necessary milestones.

We had well child coverage until Cakes was 2 months old, so she had all of the typical screening tests and check-ups that any newborn has, up until that point. I was up front with the doctor about the fact that our insurance coverage would be changing after the first of the year. She gave us an immunization schedule and told us when to have lead levels and hemoglobin checked. The lab tests by themselves are not expensive – we’ve had them done at our family doctor’s office, and they’ve been normal.

-Here are some basic & alternative remedies that work well for us:

For headaches: acetaminophen and ibuprofen, taken in combination. For tension headaches, a heating pad on the back of the neck works wonders. Ice packs work well for other headaches.

For tummy upset: peppermint tea. I buy this in bulk at an Amish grocery, and it’s amazing how well it calms nausea. Sometimes just the smell of it makes me feel better! Also, activated charcoal capsules work wonders for digestive problems. My husband once had food poisoning and they made him feel almost normal within a few hours.

To prevent colds: saline nasal spray. Just keeping the nasal passages moist can help ward off cold viruses. We also run a filterless humidifier in the winter – we have a humidistat so that we can tell if the air is too dry.

For bumps and bruises: Arnica Montana ointment. This is an herbal ointment that has been like a miracle salve at our house, where bumps and bruises are everyday events.

For cuts, scrapes and other skin irritations: Calendula ointment. Another excellent herbal ointment, which has rapidly healed up my sore fingers.

-We get plenty of rest, and keep our life as calm and stress-free as possible. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – children (and adults) need down time, and age-appropriate bedtimes. Bee goes to bed at 8:30, and Cakes goes at 7:00. (If you need help determining an age-appropriate bedtime for your child, this chart, which I keep in the Parenting section of my HMG, is a useful reference). We have a set routine, a calm and orderly home life, and we make the girls’ bedtimes a top priority. This means that we don’t over-schedule their days with tons of activities, and we make sure that we’re home at night so they can get to bed on time. My husband and I also make an effort to get 8 hours of sleep each night. I find that I get sick much less often when I’m well rested, and not frazzled and stressed out.

-I take a “wait and see” approach when one of us is sick, which basically means that I don’t rush off to the doctor for every little thing. When I became a mother, I took it upon myself to learn about basic medical care and common childhood illnesses, from reputable books and other sources, such as the Mayo Clinic. I observe my kids closely when they’re ill, and I’ve found that I can always tell when they need a doctor, and when they have something that can be successfully treated at home. I know my children well, and I trust my God-given maternal instincts.

– I pray. I’ve prayed for the health and safety of my children every single night since the day they were born. I believe that faith in God is good for both physical and emotional health. Prayer is comforting, and it gives worry over to the Lord, who is the ultimate healer.

When I was in the hospital during my bout with ovarian hyperstimulation (see My In Vitro Fertilization Story), I came to a point where I feared for my life. I knew that I was gravely ill, because I overheard the doctors talking to my husband in the hallway outside my room. I had been in the hospital for 2 weeks at that point, with no signs of improvement – in fact, I seemed to be getting worse. I was not a saved Christian then, but I did believe in God. One night, I decided to do something that I hadn’t done in a long time…pray. I asked for God to heal me, and He did.

I do realize that God sometimes chooses to not heal people. We can’t know His reasons, but the Bible says that He hears us when we call. So… I do.