Written by Susan M. Shannon Davies

Everyone seems to agree that something needs to be done about health care costs in the United States. While the nation debates the possible solutions, here are some things you can do right now for your family and your budget!

Medical supplies and records
"Eight out of ten health care problems are cared for at home without the help of health professionals. By doing a good job of self-care, you are helping to reduce health care costs." (Healthwise Handbook, 10th Edition).

Even if you are insured, you are reducing your costs by eliminating any co-pay insurance payments.

Here are some key steps you can take to reduce unnecessary doctor visits and medical costs.
  • Be prepared for minor emergencies and illnesses. Keep a well-stocked first aid kit and purchase some basic medical equipment.

  • Store an emergency procedures reference booklet with your supplies.

  • Take CPR and first aid classes. Many cities offer these through community education programs.

  • Make a folder or notebook for each family member. Each time there is an illness or accident, jot down the date, make notes about the symptoms and treatments, and describe the results. Include both physical and mental observations of the patient. These records can be valuable in evaluating recurring or chronic problems.

Nutrition
Good nutrition is extremely important in preventing and overcoming illness. Use your food dollars to buy unprocessed, low sugar, low fat, high fiber, wholesome food. Shop around the "outside of the store" where you tend to find fresh fruits and vegetables, bulk foods, etc. The new USDA food pyramid provides a good foundation for healthy eating.

Don't buy things like soda pop or candy on a regular basis. These and other foods like them provide zero nutrition. Bake healthy snack foods or eat fruit in between meals. Check out a wholesome foods cookbook from the library.

Education
Your library is sure to have numerous reference books on basic health care. Check one out, and visit your local bookstore for other possibilities. Every home should have some reference books on health and medical care that can be used as guides for identifying symptoms and treatments, as well as determining when to seek a doctor's care.

If you are unsure whether an appointment is necessary, consider a phone consultation. Most health care clinics provide on-call services 24 hours a day.

Whenever you're planning to visit your health care provider, write down everything about your complaint or illness before you go. If an illness is diagnosed, ask lots of questions:
  • Does the prescribed medication have any side effects or contraindications? Due to possible synergistic reactions, should you avoid other pharmaceuticals?

  • Is there a generic equivalent available? Bob Lewis, Vice President of Public Affairs at the Generic Pharmaceutical Industry Association estimates that you can save 30% to 50% using generic drugs.

  • Can your health care provider give you the names of any books or recent articles that discuss your illness?

  • Are there less expensive or less invasive alternative treatments that could be tried first?

    For instance, holistic and homeopathic remedies can be effective, inexpensive and non﷓invasive. Many parents try them first with their children when they are teething or have ear infections and are pleasantly surprised with the results.

    (Homeopathy is a therapeutic form of medicine based on the principle that minute doses of medicines can stimulate the body's immune system to cure itself. For example: Ipecac if taken in large doses induces vomiting. If taken in minute, homeopathic doses, often cures vomiting. It's similar (though different) to the idea behind immunizations.)

    Stephen Cummings, MD, in his book, Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicines, notes that homeopathy, developed in the late 1700's by a German physician, is enjoying a comeback in the United States. A survey published in The New England Journal of Medicine (Vol. 328) found that over 30% of Americans used homeopathy in 1990.

    Consider reading more about homeopathy, herbal treatments, mind/body connections, chiropractic, nutritional therapies or Chinese medicines. Used alone for minor conditions or in conjunction with conventional medicine, they can enhance your family's overall health and reduce your health care expenditures.

    (Warning: The secular market is inundated with books and speakers promoting health care via New Age theology, which puts man first. Know what to look for and what to avoid, and/or ask your Christian book store owner to help you.)

Talk to friends and family about your health care concerns. If you subscribe to the Internet or an on-line service, participate in discussion groups concerning this topic. Use health care providers as consultants, but listen to what your body is telling you and trust God to help you make the best choices.

Insurance Options
If you're responsible for buying your own medical insurance, ask for competitive bids and study the options. By analyzing the choices for deductibles and copayments, you can reduce your monthly medical insurance bills and have more control over your family's health care costs. Families who have to pay for medical insurance and fees are much more discriminating.

For example, Blue Cross individual health insurance offers deductibles from $300 to $3,000. In the 34-year-old category, with a $300 deductible, a family of four could expect to pay $216 per month. In contrast, if the same family opted for a $3,000 deductible policy, the monthly payment would drop to $92.80. That's a savings of $1,480 per year, provided family members remain relatively healthy.

Barbara Gracey, from the Health Insurance Association of America, affirms that while families needs differ, choosing a higher deductible can save money in the short run. Tracy Andrus, vice president of public affairs and corporate communications at Blue Cross of Idaho, cautions, however, that "higher deductibles work best for families with relatively good health."

Prayer
While there are many practical ways to reduce health care expenses, it always should be remembered that the power of healing ultimately lies in God's hands. Consequently, all health care and treatment programs should begin and end with prayer.

Pray not only for yourself and family members, but for friends when they are sick. In your faithfulness, you will be blessed as you see the hand of God's provision in your life and the lives of others.

The connection between healing and prayer is well documented in Larry Dossey's book, Healing Words - The Power of Prayer and The Practice of Medicine. His book also reveals the importance of choosing a physician who shares your faith. If your doctor prays for your recovery, you have an improved chance of getting better.

When afflictions are serious, consider the importance of James 5:14-15 where the ailing person is advised to invite the elders of the church to pray over him or her.

In addition to asking God for help, don't forget to praise God when healing is provided.

So, don't wait for the federal government to take action on the health care issue; stretch your health care dollars by taking a proactive, preventive, practical and prayerful approach to your family's health.

Susan Shannon Davies is a freelance writer and teacher in Boise, Idaho. She and her husband have four daughters and are self-insured.

For more money-saving ideas visit No-Debt Living, www.nodebtnews.com, where you can view more than 100 valuable articles and resources on financial, consumer and time-management news with a Christian perspective. Copyright 2000 No-Debt Living.