Don't give up medications prescribed by a doctor, but review all your prescriptions with her or a pharmacist at least once a year.
Ways to save: Follow Maria Taylor's example and choose generic drugs over name brands. (Just make sure there are no questions about the generic's equivalence to your usual drug; see PeoplesPharmacy.com for more information.)
- Ask your doctor whether there are older, effective drugs you could take. Recent studies suggest that newer, pricier meds don't always work better than the less expensive treatments they were designed to replace. In one report, older diabetes drugs were as effective as newer types that cost eight to 11 times as much.
- Negotiate. Some health insurance companies are reducing or waiving co-pays on commonly prescribed drugs; call to see if your plan offers this program.
- Split your pills. Talk to your doctor about getting a higher-dose version of your drug and slicing the pills in half with a pill splitter. (Many statins can be split; the same is true of some pills for blood pressure, depression, and other conditions.) This can reduce prescription costs by as much as 50 percent.
- Look for discounts. NeedyMeds.org is a clearinghouse for hundreds of prescription-drug-assistance programs. Many of these programs are for the uninsured, but some provide discounts for insured patients who have high co-pays or who need expensive drugs.
Don't give up regular mammograms, Pap tests, and bone-density tests, as well as checks of your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Ways to save: Ask your doctor's office, local hospitals, and women's health centers about free and low-priced mammograms, Pap smears, and other recommended tests. Several national chain drugstores offer free drop-in screenings for cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
- If you have no health issues, cancel your annual physical. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends this practice. In 20 years of studying physicals, government researchers found that healthy people gain no benefit from annual visits. In fact, physicals can lead to unnecessary testing that has the potential to be both expensive and harmful.
- Slow down on Pap screens. Women over 30 who have had three consecutive healthy Pap smears can limit their tests to once every two to three years.
- Pass on unnecessary heart screens. Most people don't need heart disease tests for homocysteine, C-reactive protein, coronary calcium, and a blood fat called Lp(a), says Susan Bennett, MD, clinical director of the Women's Heart Program at George Washington University Hospital. These screens make sense only if you have a family history of early heart disease in the absence of the usual risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides.