1. Keep up to date with checkups - Do not skimp on care to save a few dollars, especially if you have a health condition that requires regular monitoring. Also be sure children get all necessary vaccinations.
How to save: Many insurance plans cover well-child and preventive care visits with a low or no co-payment. Or look into health care clinics (such as those offered at some drug store chains) for discount exams and vaccinations.
2. Ask for a discount - If you pay for appointments out of pocket, ask the doctor if he or she offers a cash discount. If you have health insurance, be sure the physicians you see are in the network for a deeper discount on fees.
How to save: Talk to the manager of patient accounts about your situation. Many providers and facilities will offer discounts of 10 percent to 50 percent for those who have lost their jobs or who can pay cash up front.
3. Save with a FSA - If your employer offers a flexible spending account (FSA), take advantage of it. An FSA allows employees to have money deducted, pretax, from their paychecks for medical care. For a $1,000 annual deduction, employees might save up to $350 (depending on the tax bracket).
How to save: Look at canceled checks, bills or credit card statements to determine how much you spent on medical care last year. Then request withholding of about 80 percent of that amount, to be safe. Be sure you can spend the full amount you have deducted, because if you do not spend it, you lose it.
4. Save on medications - Ask your doctor if a generic medication will work as well as a brand-name one for you. Also look into any discounts for which you qualify, from insurance to AARP to AAA. Mail-order pharmacies sometimes allow you to order several months of medications at a big discount.
How to save: Look at all the options, including discount medications from warehouse club and discount/chain stores, to find the best deal on needed medicines.
5. Wear a helmet - Follow the same rules you should establish for children: Wear a helmet whenever you are on wheels. That includes skates, scooters, bicycles, motorcycles and skateboards. Also protect your head when you ski, snowboard, horseback ride, rock climb or engage in other potentially risky activities.
How to save: A safety helmet costs less than $30. The average cost of care for a moderate brain injury is nearly $1 million.
6. Get the flu vaccine - A flu shot or inhaled flu mist can save you from a bout of nasty illness, with days or even weeks of associated time off work.
How to save: Flu shots typically cost about $25. Save more by seeking out nonprofit organizations in your area that count part of the fee as a tax-deductible charitable donation.
7. Read your bills - Some experts estimate that eight of 10 medical bills contain errors or inflated charges.
How to save: Ask for an itemized bill and read it carefully. Protest any erroneous charges to negotiate a lower fee.
8. Avoid the Medicare "doughnut hole" - Medicare-eligible patients with Part D prescription coverage must watch for the coverage gap, also known as the "doughnut hole." After patients spend a certain amount on prescription drugs, they must pay all drug costs out of pocket until they reach a higher level of prescription expenses. Currently, Medicare Part D coverage stops at $2,700 and resumes when the patient's out-of-pocket cost reaches $6,154 per year. To make things worse, Medicare applies the entire retail cost of drugs -- not just the patient's co-payment -- to the coverage limits.
How to save: Ask your physician to prescribe lower-cost or generic medications whenever possible. Less-expensive drugs can help postpone entering into the doughnut hole and make the coverage gap more affordable.
9. Consider medical tourism - It sounds exotic, but it is no longer just for jetsetters. In 2007, 1.5 million people traveled just to Thailand for medical care. Even some U.S. insurers are coming on board to allow Americans to travel overseas to receive more cost-effective medical care such as knee replacement or other costly procedures.