NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Whether you agree with the Supreme Court’s ruling last week on health care reform or not, there’s no doubt that health care costs are rising, and that trend won’t likely abate even as health care reform takes full effect by 2014.
According to a new study on medical costs by New York City-based Towers Watson, health care costs are rising at “double digit levels” around the world.
The Towers survey focuses on employer medical coverage costs and tracks 237 leading medical insurers in 48 countries. The survey found that the cost of employee medical benefits on a global basis is estimated to rise by 9.6% this year, compared to 9.8% in 2011, and 10.2% in 2009. Towers says that medical costs are expected to swell to double-digit figures in four of five key global regions (including the U.S.), with only Europe seeing stabilized health care cost levels.
The Towers study also concludes that wellness programs are one key area companies are looking at to curb employee health care costs. That’s a big deal to consumers –- if companies and corporations are getting whacked by higher medical costs, they will invariably pass those higher costs on to employees in the form of higher health care plan premiums and fees.
“The news is not all gloom and doom. Across all regions, we are seeing projections increase at a slower rate than in the recent past — perhaps evidence of the global economic slowdown,” notes Francis Coleman, director of international consulting at Towers Watson. “Nevertheless, with trend rates expected to continue rising, even if less quickly, employers will be compelled to look for innovative solutions to manage their medical costs. In particular, many will investigate how a strategy of holistic health promotion can help curb long-term costs effectively.”
For consumers, the trick is to cut health care costs where they can, then take advantage of any wellness programs their employer offers.
Consumer finance advocate Andrea Woroch, who offers regular commentary on personal finance issues on her website, recently shared a useful list of strategies to curb medical costs. A few of those tips are included below:
• Negotiate Your Bills: While providers are less likely to negotiate if you're covered by insurance, those without have a good chance of bringing their bills down by 10% to 20%. You can also save by paying cash.
• Ask For Time: Rather than pay a bill with a credit card, ask the provider to extend the time you have to pay. They may charge interest, but it's likely to be far lower than that of a credit card. Make sure you ask BEFORE receiving the service, however. You'll likely have to sign a form saying you'll pay either up front (if without insurance) or within a prescribed period of time.
• Scrutinize Your Medical Bill: Experts estimate that eight out of 10 medical bills may have some sort of error, so it pays to ask for the full bill and check it for inaccuracies. Do the same with the explanation of benefits from your health insurance agency. This particularly applies to long hospital stays.
• Use Coupons for OTC Meds: In the world of medical costs, every little bit counts. Look for online offers and printable coupons to Walgreens and other drugstores from such sites as CouponSherpa.com. You may find ordering online gives you additional savings, especially if you live a great distance from the nearest store or have trouble getting around.
• Bring Drugs From Home: You can often bring prescriptions from home when staying at a hospital. While you'll have to turn these meds over to the nurse so they can regulate dosage, this method provides enormous savings over the mark-ups charged by hospitals.
• Shop Costco: Costco isn't just for bulk toilet paper. The warehouse-store chain is working with Aetna to offer five health plans that include major medical and dental benefits. The program is presently available in Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.
Woroch also advises using a spreadsheet to keep tabs on your health care spending on a regular basis. You may even qualify for a tax deduction.
No doubt, health care costs are an uphill climb for employers and consumers. The key for the latter group is to take full advantage of those employer wellness programs, and to take a page out of Woroch’s book to cut personal healthcare expenses.
You’ll feel better, and your bank account will look healthier, too.