Does the possibility of ever-rising health care costs make you shudder? Cynthia Haines, MD wrote ‘The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System’ to help you save your health and your wallet.

The buzz about health care reform hasn’t died down since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed by President Obama last year. But although the battle rages on, one thing is clear: The new law is not likely to curb health-care expenditures in the United States. In 2009, the total U.S. health-care bill was $2.5 trillion — about $8,000 dollars per person. And, partly as a result of the population aging, that figure is projected to be $4.5 trillion a year by 2019.

What does this mean for generally Americans? A typical family of four covered by employer-provided health insurance now spends about $18,000 a year on medical costs. And even for those lucky enough to have insurance, out-of-pocket expenses are steadily rising due to higher deductibles and copayments and different expenses.

An Ounce of Prevention

It is possible to spend less and stay healthy, however. That’s the message of a new book co-authored by Cynthia Haines, MD, a family physician, a professor at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, chief medical officer for the news service HealthDay, and a medical reviewer for Everyday Health. Written by Eric Metcalf, MPH, The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System (Health Communications, 2011) focuses on real-life, common-sense preventive measures, rather than on treating illnesses after they’ve already developed.

“We practice medicine backward,” Dr. Haines says. “We focus way an excessive amount of on correcting illness than we do on preventing it in the first place and maintaining optimal health.”

Staying Healthy, One Small Step at a Time

Similarly, as individuals put small amounts away for retirement and reap the benefits at a future date, Haines says, “with your health, it’s the small things you do every day that will ensure you’re living healthy for years to come.” She also believes that “No matter what happens with health-care reform, we’re going to be shouldering the burden [of health-care costs], either as individuals, or as businesses, or through taxes. It’s in our own best interest to take charge of what we can control. It’s much cheaper for the long haul to spend your health-care dollars on preventive care.”

Here are the fundamental steps Haines recommends to take charge of your health and get better care for less money:

Find a primary care provider you can stick with.

“All time you need to move to a new doctor, you pretty much have to start from scratch,” says Haines. “If you can find one primary care provider and stick with them, it helps because the doctor can truly get to know you.” She also notes that in most instances, you won’t need to see a specialist first. “Your primary care physician can handle the bulk of health problems that you come across in your daily life.”

Be a smart shopper.

Choose a specialist like you would choose some other service you’re paying for, says Haines. “If you’re not satisfied with your primary care physician, you may need to look around. Talk to your friends. Who likes their doctor, and why?” When you’re at the doctor’s office, ask questions about treatment options. Why are these tests necessary? How much will they cost? Ask about treatment options — is this the lowest-cost alternative? “Even if your insurance is paying for it today, it may not tomorrow,” notes Haines. If you’re prescribed a pricey drug, ask if there’s a generic equivalent that’s cheaper or even free (for example, some large supermarket chain pharmacies have programs that offer free or heavily discounted generic medications).

Know when to take a stand.

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of being too much stressed over your wellbeing and fixating on each and every twinge or throb. Haines calls this “wellbeing nervousness,” yet it used to be known as hypochondriasis. “In the event that you begin concentrating on being a patient, it can assume control over your personality,” says Haines. While it’s constantly vital to look at unexplained dying, bizarre knots or other skin developments, and other potential issues, it’s likewise insightful to believe your specialist’s feeling about your condition in many events. “If you go to your specialist and he says ‘we’ve done the workup, there’s nothing there,’ you can release it.”

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