- See the right doctors. You want the best care possible, but also the best price. Whenever possible, by going to a military medical facility such as a hospital, clinic or sick bay, you'll receive high-quality care at the lowest cost to you. If no military facility is near you, check with your health insurance plan to determine the best civilian option.
- Choose the right plan. Review all your options when choosing coverage under TRICARE. TRICARE offers several coverage levels that have different options to choose providers, etc., at different cost points. Carefully consider all your options, including what physicians you will want to see, how healthy you and your family are, and anticipated future medical needs, to determine the right level of care for you.
- Keep up to date with checkups. Don't skimp on care to save a few dollars, especially if you have a health condition that requires regular monitoring. Be sure children get all necessary vaccinations, and take preventive measures such as getting a flu vaccination every year.
- Ask for the best deal. Talk to the manager of patient accounts about your situation. Your TRICARE benefits might vary depending on your plan level and whether you or the physician's office files your claim. For example, if you use the point-of-service option (POS) to visit a non-network, non-participating physician, they can charge you up to 15 percent more than the agreed-upon TRICARE rate, according to TRICARE.mil. If you plant to see a physician regularly, then discuss any options that can make your care more cost effective.
- Save with a FSA. If your employer or your spouse's 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. Look at canceled checks, bills or credit card statements to determine how much you spent on medical care (out of your own pocket, outside of health plan benefits) last year. One rule of thumb is to 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.
- Cut drug costs. First, seek to receive your medications from a military treatment facility, where they are free. Otherwise, ask your doctor if a generic medication will work as well as a brand-name one for you. If it is equally effective, a generic drug costs two-thirds less when ordered through TRICARE's mail-order pharmacy. If not, look into all options, including discount medications from warehouse club and discount/chain stores, to find the best deal on needed medicines.
- Deduct what you can. Develop a method -- whether a spreadsheet, a shoebox for receipts, or a list in a notebook -- to keep track of what you spend on medical care. If you spend more than 7.5 percent of your income, you could be eligible to deduct those costs from your income taxes.
Revamping health care is constantly in the headlines as President Obama and Congress attempt to hammer out a way to make health care costs - one of the largest sources of debt and bankruptcy in the nation - more manageable for more Americans. Free or reasonably priced health care coverage is one of the ways the American public decided to help compensate members of the military, their families, and military retirees for their service to the nation. TRICARE (http://TRICARE.mil) offers a wide range of health plans for a variety of needs, and many of these plans allow for free medical care, or care at very low cost compared to the prices paid by civilians. Nonetheless, co-payments, medications, dental and vision care can add up. Try these suggestions to help keep the cost of medical care manageable:
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