published Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Stick with a doctor who knows your condition

by Ellen Phillips

Q: All our medical costs are rising so quickly. Do you have any suggestions how my family can spend on necessities but still save? — Sylvester Sickly

A: Dear Mr. Sickly: Your question comes at the right moment, as I’ve been researching this issue for my own purposes. Hopefully, you’ll see substantial savings for the future.

First, we’re told to maintain our insurance coverage, if at all possible. If we’re insurance-lacking, an illness or hospital stay could end up costing upwards of $50,000 for a relatively simply operation. On the other hand, some people are forced into a Cobra situation (if you’ve lost medical insurance through “hit-the-road-Jack” of either termination of a reduction in force).

While Cobra can be maintained usually in the 18 months’ range for most folks, it’s exorbitantly expensive, often averaging around $1,200 monthly from your own pocket.

One “solution,” though is to mix and match health plans. For example, Type II diabetes has me in its nasty clutches; if we lacked health insurance, I could use Cobra for my own coverage, but my husband could use a much cheaper plan strictly for himself. Be sure to check out your personal needs at

Be sure you stay with a trustworthy doctor. I can’t stress this enough. Doc-in-the-boxes are fine for the occasional emergency or for after-hours, but it’s far better to stick with one physician for the long run.

He or she knows all about you, your ills, your meds, your history, your “everything,” and is in a much better position to treat you. Your doctor may insist on your coming back for a “normal” follow-up, but a phone call or email usually suffices. A chronic condition, though, or a more ominous short-term illness deserves a follow-up visit.

Sometimes it’s best to stay with brand-name medications. Blood thinners, meds for seizures, asthma, bipolar disorder and heart conditions require a “consistent blood level and your body may not react to a generic in the same way,” says author and physician Dr. Cynthia Koelker in the September edition of Family Circle. For savings, these meds and those for other conditions may be found in your doctor’s supply closet in the form of samples.

A three months’ supply, according to this article, could save you as much as 25 percent a year, so don’t be afraid to ask for several packages. Additionally, request coupons from Dr. Nice and/or your pharmacist and check drug company websites for printable vouchers.

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at under Local Business.

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