In a time of rising costs for everything from food to cars to luxuries, families are looking at one of the biggest items in their budget: health care.

Health insurance, whether an ACA (“Obamacare”) plan or a faith-based health cost-sharing plan, is expensive. Health care itself is getting more and more expensive. As a result, many American families are looking for ways to keep those costs under control.

Here are some tips to help control your family’s health care costs.

Get checked out

Start with regular checkups and health screenings. Routine tests can catch health problems early, when they’re easier, and therefore less expensive to solve.

With many health insurance plans, your routine checkups with your primary health care provider — that is, your family doctor — are covered. Depending on the plan, there may not even be a co-pay fee for these. So all around, it’s the most cost-effective form of health care available.

Stay healthy

While we cannot control accidents, a healthy lifestyle means fewer health problems and therefore savings on health care. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking all reduce your risk of developing health problems and requiring tests and treatments.

Read your insurance policy

For most people, an insurance policy is the perfect bedtime read — it will put you to sleep fast. However, understanding the details of your insurance plan, such as deductibles, co-pays, coinsurance and so on, will help you make decisions and prepare for future expenses.

Some insurance companies, as well as Health Choice One, offer advice by phone or online. You can also find information from the federal government’s health care website.

Ask

While you’re with your doctor, ask them for suggestions on reducing costs. If they suggest a procedure, test, or a prescription, ask how much it will cost. Ask whether it can wait, or if there is a cheaper alternative.

If your family doctor is recommending a visit to a specialist, ask whether that specialist is a part of your insurance plan’s network. Going outside the network can mean your insurance plan won’t cover as much of the cost, if any at all.

You can also ask about payment plans for larger fees. Medical providers usually offer better financing terms than your credit card company. Non-profit hospitals are required by law to have programs that provide financial relief for the uninsured and underinsured. Some hospitals and doctors will also waive a portion of their fees if you pay in cash.

Cut costs on prescriptions

The first rule in managing the costs of prescription medications is to take them as directed. That way, you’ll get the most cost-effective results. Cutting pills in half means, at best, they’ll take longer to have the effect your doctor intended. In the end, you’ll spend more than if you had taken the full prescription.

However, you can and should ask both your doctor and your pharmacists about generic alternatives to name-brand prescriptions. They are almost always significantly less expensive. However, ask your doctor first whether the less expensive alternative is suitable for you.

Sometimes, you can save money by ordering your prescriptions online. Be cautious about this approach, though. Order only from reputable companies to make sure you are getting what you pay for.

Shop around

There are many different health insurance plans as well as alternatives available to you. Start with the ACA Marketplace, but do not limit yourself to that one category. Compare the plans, their monthly premiums, deductibles, copays and coinsurance rates, as well as what they cover.

You can also compare the costs of medical procedures in your area, including procedures in a doctor’s office, surgeries, lab tests, x-rays, imaging, prescriptions and hospital stays.

Choose the right kind of service

Do you need immediate medical care, urgent care or routine care? Hospital emergency rooms are the most expensive option when it comes to medical care.

If someone is sick or injured and could suffer permanent or fatal harm, they need emergency care. Don’t hesitate to call an ambulance or take them to the emergency department. Chest pain, trouble breathing or severe bleeding are examples of reasons to go to the ER.

Infections, animal bites, sprains and other issues that cannot wait until the next day or until you can get an appointment with your primary care provider are times when you should use an urgent care clinic or center. These are much less expensive than the ER, and provide most of the services that you would need.

Stay in your insurance plan’s network

Many insurance plans specify a network of health care providers. These are doctors, clinics, specialists, labs and other providers that have a contract with the insurance plan. This means that they meet the insurance company’s standards, and have agreed on fees, payment plans, deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance. If you choose a provider that’s not part of the network, you could pay more, or completely out-of-pocket for the services.

Have questions?

You can talk to one of our friendly advisors with questions on choosing the plan and options that are right for you and your family. Call us at 1-888-987-6593 between 8 am and 6 pm Eastern time.