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6 Ways to Reduce Health Care Costs for Union Members

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg | Jan 6, 2020

It's estimated that a typical family of four with insurance spent more than $28,000 on health care last year. These sky-high medical costs can put an uncomfortable level of pressure on your members and cause both financial and emotional stress, which in turn contributes to even more serious and expensive health conditions later on. Helping your members reduce health care costs can alleviate their anxiety, promoting their well-being at home and work.

6 Strategies for Lowering Member Health Costs

Your members likely want more affordable care, but they may not know how to access it. Here are six straightforward strategies you can offer your members to help them reduce health care costs.

1. Ask about generic prescriptions.

A generic drug is a copy of a branded drug and goes by a different name (typically the chemical name of the drug), and it's often a less expensive alternative. For example, generic Tylenol is called acetaminophen. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medications, requires a generic medication to be identical to the brand-name version in "dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, performance characteristics and intended use." Members should always consult their doctor, but often, generic medication is about 85% less expensive than the brand-name counterparts.

2. Consider telehealth appointments. 

Telehealth appointments are the same as doctor appointments — they're just held via video conference. These reduce health care costs because they don't require a member to take off extra time from work to commute to an appointment or sit in a waiting room. A recent study found that the average doctor visit costs a patient $43 in lost time. To attend a virtual visit, a member just needs access to a phone, a tablet or a computer with a webcam.

3. Pick the right insurance plan. 

Carefully considering a family's unique needs when choosing a health insurance plan can often reveal ways to save money. If a member expects to have high medical bills — maybe because they have a chronic illness or a baby is on the way — paying a higher premium in exchange for lower out-of-pocket costs may make financial sense in the long run. On the other hand, if all family members are healthy, a high-deductible plan with lower premiums could help to reduce health care costs overall. 

4. Use a health savings account.

For members with the option, using a health savings account (HSA) can make for huge savings. These accounts allow members to deposit money from their paychecks into a special pretax account. Members can then use the funds on eligible medical expenses. Even better, money deposited into an HSA rolls over from year to year. Some employers also offer a flexible spending account, or FSA. It's similar to an HSA — however, FSA money expires at the end of each year. Employers, however, can let employees roll $500 into the new year, and some offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to spend the rest of the cash.

5. Get preventive care.

It's often easier and less expensive to treat minor medical problem than it is to treat major ones. Luckily, the Affordable Care Act mandates that all health insurance plans include certain preventive services free of charge. Those services might include a yearly physical, cancer screenings and a well-woman exam. Other preventive care, like dental cleanings and regular eye exams, may come at a cost, but it's worth the investment. By taking advantage of free preventive care, members have a better chance of identifying possible health issues and addressing them before they escalate. 

6. Commit to a healthy lifestyle.

Smart lifestyle choices are fundamental to good health. Members who eat well, exercise and refrain from smoking greatly reduce their chances of developing a chronic condition. That could represent huge savings for your members at a time when chronic disease is responsible for $1.1 trillion of the country's total health care costs.

When you help members keep their health care costs and stress low, you're not only helping reduce their risk of stress-related disease. You're also freeing them up to be more productive, engaged and happy.

With 15 years' experience writing for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, The Christian Science Monitor and Newsday — Deborah Blumberg specializes in business and finance and health and wellness. She writes about topics including corporate communications, financial markets, real estate, renewable energy, cancer, health education, nutrition, supplements, the microbiome and functional medicine. She was a Knight Center fellow and a Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism fellow. Her time working in marketing and communications at JPMorgan Chase taught her how to best tell a company's story. She's adept at turning complex ideas into compelling copy. She's also an officer of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and a Women in the Visual and Literary Arts board member, and she is fluent in Spanish.