expensive-healthcare.jpgMy head almost blew off last night when I realized that my husband had spent $35 on a small bottle of antibiotic drops. The nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office prescribed them for me for an ear ailment and I asked my hubby to pick them up.

First off, I want to apologize to my husband for yelling at him. Well, I wasn’t actually yelling at him but I was so mad that this tiny bottle cost $35 it was hard to hold in my anger.

Usually we pay $20 so why the heck had the fee gone up?

I called the company that handles our insurance coverage, which we get through my husband’s employer, and the guy on the phone told me as of Aug. 1 the medication we bought was no longer considered a preferred drug under our plan.

Unfortunately, no one told us that.

This scenario is indicative of how the insurance industry and employers are putting the squeeze on working families who are lucky enough to have insurance.

More and more working Americans who have insurance are seeing their health-care tabs escalate, and many are finding they can’t afford it.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust, workers are being asked to pay out more for their medical care, not just more in insurance premiums but also more for deductibles.

This from U.S. News & World Reports Michelle Andrews:

The survey found that in 2008, 18 percent of workers in employer-sponsored plans have a deductible of at least $1,000, a sharp increase over the 12 percent with a deductible of that size last year. “We may be seeing the tip of the iceberg of a trend toward less comprehensive, skimpier benefits for people, with higher deductibles and higher out-of pocket-costs,” said Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman at a press conference announcing the survey findings.

That means workers have to be on the look out for stealthy changes in their insurance plans, especially during open enrollment season, which is soon upon us.

Please folks, take a night to pour over the plans and the fine print. One of the big surprises I hear from workers is that they never expected to have to cover any of their expenses when they go to a hospital beyond the initial deductible. But more and more plans are forcing members to pay a percentage of the tab. And given how high care in the hospital can go, even 5 percent could send someone with a moderate income into financial ruin.

Andrews has some good advice on how to help keep your costs down:

Make your health plan pay its share. This sounds obvious, but too often people don’t demand their due. When they get a notice saying their claim has been rejected, or that the insurer will cover only a portion of the cost, they simply pay up instead of questioning the charge. Don’t do that. If you disagree with the insurer’s determination, contest it first through the plan’s internal appeals process. If you can’t make headway there, contact your state health department or attorney general’s office. They often have ombudsmen or other staffers who work with consumers on health insurance claim problems.

Check out government programs. If you qualify, enroll yourself or your children in public programs like Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP. Eligibility standards vary by state, but several states cover children in families with income up to 300 percent of the poverty level, or more than $63,000 for a family of four. Added incentive: You may be able to get retroactive coverage though these programs for medical care received before you enrolled.

Negotiate with your providers. Don’t be shy: Ask your doctor or hospital if you can get a discount and/or arrange a payment plan. You may be able to reduce your bill by as much as 40 percent or eliminate it entirely. Although many charity care and other assistance programs are income-based, providers also offer discounts to patients who have means but are facing hefty bills for expensive treatment.

Consider prompt payment discounts carefully . Some providers will shave as much as 30 percent off your bill if you pay at the time the service is provided. That’s great if you have the money, but think twice before putting it on a credit card. Your savings may evaporate into interest charges.

And call your plan provider before you head to the pharmacy with that prescription. You never know what changes they may have made right under your nose.

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