MONEY

6 Surprising Reasons Eating Right Pays Off

French Fry Packaging with rolled up dollar bills
Saying no to the fries is a smart money choice. Mike Kemp—Getty Images

You know a better diet will make you fitter and healthier. What you may not realize is that replacing fries with a salad can help your finances too.

Eating healthy can make you look and feel better, but it can also be great for your wallet. Whether by reducing medical costs or helping you earn more, a healthy diet has benefits beyond a slimmer waistline. Consider these ways your diet can improve your finances:

1. You’ll Lower the Likelihood of Needing to Take a Sick Day

Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals that help boost your immune system so it can better fight off viruses and bacterial infections. Staying healthy during flu season means you can go to work and get that paycheck (or promotion), and you won’t have to spend money on meds and extra doctor’s visits.

Not only does consuming a lot of produce increase your immunity in the short term, but it also helps prevent disease in the long run. Notably, eating more vegetables reduces the risk of heart disease, which afflicts about a third of all adults and costs about $444 billion a year to treat in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2. You Can Stay More Productive

Not much is better for your finances than making more money, and one way to do that is to work harder. According to 2012 research conducted at Brigham Young University, eating healthy can help you do that. The researchers evaluated 19,800 employees at three large companies and found that eating well every day may lower your risk of productivity loss by 66%. They also found that exercise lowered the risk of lost productivity by 50%, and getting five fruit and vegetable servings lowered the risk by 39%. (Other research has found that frequent exercise is connected to higher pay.)

3. You Can Take Fewer Pills

Disease costs a lot of money in terms of doctor’s visits, procedures, surgeries, and medical devices, but a large chunk of medical spending goes toward prescriptions that could be discontinued. In fact, three of the top five most commonly prescribed medications in the U.S. are for preventable heart conditions, adding up to more than 160 million scripts per year. Keeping your heart healthy and your weight down through diet will help reduce the need for these medications and the monthly expense that goes along with them.

4. You’ll Steer Clear of Complications

When you’re unhealthy or obese, you’re more likely to have complications with an existing condition. For example, obesity decreases lung performance and is thought to exacerbate asthma symptoms. But foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids can increase lung performance. In addition, high blood pressure and diabetes can complicate your pregnancy, according to the CDC, and those costs can add up. Eating a healthy diet and keeping a normal body weight can help you avoid these problems.

5. You’ll Age Better

When most people think of retirement planning, they think of 401(k)s and IRAs. That’s a great start, but if there’s anything that can deplete your retirement funds, it’s unplanned medical costs. Studies conducted over the past 20 years show that plant-based and Mediterranean diets increase longevity and health, helping you work longer (if you want), save more toward retirement, and hopefully spend less on health care later.

More recently, researchers in Rome and the Washington University School of Medicine jointly published a paper that concluded that calorie restriction may be the best way to prevent disease and lengthen lifespan—even for people at a normal weight. The paper, published in 2011, took into account studies on rodents and humans. More human studies are needed, but the paper provided a basis for in-depth trials to come.

6. Your Insurer May Reward You

Employers and insurers are doing what they can to get you to eat right and work out (and need less high-cost medical care). That can mean discounts on the food you should be eating. The health-care network Harvard Pilgrim rewards workers for buying healthy food (up to $20 a month) and recently announced that it would roll out the program to other employers. Blue Cross Blue Shield offers Jenny Craig discounts, and Humana gives members a 10% discount on healthy groceries purchased at Wal-Mart.

Read more from NerdWallet Health, a website that empowers consumers to find high quality, affordable health care, and insurance.

 

MONEY Health Care

Why Does an MRI Cost So Darn Much?

Blood vessel with human brain MRI
This is a very expensive picture to take. Yuji Sakai—Getty Images

A single scan runs $2,600 on average (before your insurance kicks in). Here's what makes this common diagnostic procedure so expensive.

When it comes to pricey hospital procedures, MRIs come to mind. Sure enough, according to recently released Medicare pricing data analyzed by NerdWallet Health, the average cost of an MRI in the U.S. is $2,611. Here’s what’s behind that number.

Make Room for a Big Machine

Magnetic resonance imaging machines use magnets and radio waves to produce black-and-white images of bones and organs, usually to help with a diagnosis. Only five companies make MRI machines, and each specializes in a few magnet strengths, so there is relatively little competition when it comes time for a hospital or medical center to buy one.

Machines come in a variety of sizes and powers. Their imaging power is measured in magnetic field strength units called Teslas; low-field or open MRI machines measure 0.2 to 0.3, while the strongest currently on the market are 3 Teslas. Used low-field MRI machines can be as cheap as $150,000 or as expensive as $1.2 million. For a state-of-the-art 3 Tesla MRI machine, the price tag to buy one new can reach $3 million.

The room that houses the machine, called an MRI suite, can cost hundreds of thousands more. Safety features must be built in to protect those right outside from the magnetic field. Add in patient support areas and installation costs, and a suite with just one machine can cost anywhere from $3 million to $5 million. Recouping these costs factors into your bill, but that alone does not tell the entire story.

Add in the Doctors and Hospitals

Charges for a single MRI scan vary widely across the country for reasons beyond startup costs. According to the recently released Medicare data, MRIs charges are as little as $474 or as high as $13,259, depending on where you go. (Another recent study of medical claims by Change Healthcare found that in-network prices for certain MRIs can run from $511 to $2,815.) That’s because hospitals and medical centers can charge whatever they want, and in most cases they don’t have to justify prices or even disclose them ahead of time.

Doctors can also charge whatever they want, and though the MRI facility probably sets the rates of their staff doctors, you’ll be charged separately for a radiologist to read the MRI. Additionally, your ordering physician may ask for the MRI to be done with or without contrast dye, or both. This “dye” is actually a paramagnetic liquid that responds to the machine’s magnet and helps enhance certain abnormalities on the scan that would not have otherwise been visible, common in neurological MRIs.

This means that in addition to cost of the scan, your total bill for the MRI will include the radiologist fee, the contrast dyes, and the cost of the procedure itself. Depending on the medical center, these charges may be bundled together into one charge. Bundling is one type of common error on medical bills, so always check over an itemized statement before paying for any costly medical procedure.

Read more from NerdWallet Health, a website that empowers consumers to find high quality, affordable health care, and insurance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MONEY Health Care

Don’t Miss Out on This Powerful Way to Cut Your Health Care Costs

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Medical bills are lengthy and complicated—and often wrong. Burazin—Getty Images

Doctor and hospital bills are riddled with errors. Learning to spot them could save you thousands on your care.

Health care is a $2.8 trillion industry in the U.S., and the billing system is filled with errors. How many? While it’s impossible to know for sure, there are some fairly good indicators.

Medicare overpayments in 2013 totaled $36 billion, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. A report by the Office of the Inspector General found that 42% of evaluation and management bills sent to Medicare in 2010 contained errors, costing taxpayers $6.7 billion. Those services don’t even include emergencies and hospital surgeries and inpatient stays, where there’s a lot more room for error.

Mistakes on hospital bills are widespread, says Pat Palmer, founder of Medical Recovery Services, a Salem, Va. organization that helps patients check and negotiate medical charges. “It’s astounding that eight out of ten hospital bills we receive contain numerous over-charges,” Palmer says.

Scrutinizing a medical bill may seem daunting, but with a few pro techniques on your side, you can catch some of the most common mistakes.

Don’t be too quick to pay

Many hospitals and clinics send statements with only one final amount, so start by requesting an itemized bill.

“My most critical advice to consumers is to never pay a hospital bill before receiving and reviewing a detailed, itemized medical bill,” Palmer says. “Otherwise, you are paying money to these facilities blindly.”

You should also have your health insurance explanation of benefits nearby before checking over the charges, since billing errors can result in coverage denials.

Learn to spot common errors

Once you have your itemized bill and EOB side by side, check to see that identifying information like your name, address, and Social Security number is correct on each statement. Misidentification is a common error, and if either your insurance company or the hospital has the wrong information, your entire claim can be rejected.

Next, make sure all medications listed on the hospital bill are correct and that you actually took them. During a hospital stay medications that have been prescribed are often discontinued or cancelled, yet they still appear on your bill. Similarly, if you know you did not receive a service such as an x-ray or blood test but see it on your bill, you’ve been overcharged, says Palmer.

After you’ve had surgery, look at the charges for the operating room, which are generally by the minute. If you know how long your surgery took, see if the time matches up. If not, check the minutes in the operating room against anesthesia start and end times—they should be similar.

Mistaken room charges also crop up frequently for overnight stays. If you were in a room with more than one bed, double check that you weren’t billed for a private room. This should be listed in the service charge, and will probably be one of the largest items on the bill, especially if you stayed multiple nights.

Finally, see if any item appears more than once, since duplicate billing is also common. These mistakes are the simplest to catch. Because of the fee-for-service coding system is complicated, others may be more difficult to spot.

How to fix what’s wrong

If you’ve found only one or two errors, you may be able to resolve them by simply reporting the mistakes to your hospital and health insurance provider. If mistakes are plentiful, set up an appointment to talk with the billing department of the hospital in person after you’ve alerted your insurance company.

If the bill is still higher than you think it should be, you can hire a medical billing advocate to help. Advocates are experts like Palmer who know how to work with hospitals and insurance providers to lower that bill.

Read more from NerdWallet Health, a website that empowers consumers to find high quality, affordable health care, and insurance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MONEY Health Care

Rx Relief: How to Save Up to 80% on Prescription Drugs

Five strategies to help you leave the pharmacy without having to swallow a bitter pill.

The average American filled 12 prescriptions last year, according to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, and as a result the pharmaceutical industry grossed $329 billion. (You’re welcome, Pfizer.)

Minimize your pain at the pharmacy counter by taking these steps when your next script is written:

1. Use coupons. For expensive prescriptions, you can save 50% or more this way. There are a lot of ways to get your hands on prescription coupons, but start by asking your pharmacist. Call ahead or ask at the counter; the pharmacist may have some on hand or be able to tell you where to find them—most likely online. If you want to search yourself, try the drug company’s website first, then check the website of your pharmacy.

2. Try mail order. Mail-order pharmacies save you money by skipping the bricks-and-mortar middleman and sending the drug directly to you, typically in 90-day quantities. Your health insurer may work with a specific mail-order house, and often you’ll get better pricing by going this route. Alternately, your prescribing doctor’s office may have a preferred pharmacy they work with regularly, so inquire when the prescription is written.

3. Ask your doctor about pill splitting Most drugs come in more than one dosage, but aren’t priced on the same scale as the dosages. This means that, per milligram, higher dosages of the same drug are often cheaper—and you could save money by purchasing double doses of your prescriptions and halving them. Not every drug should be split, so consult with your doctor first. If you’re given the go-ahead, make sure to purchase a pill splitter from a drug store to ensure consistent and equal dosing.

4. Opt for generics If there’s a generic version of your brand-name drug available and you’re not taking it, you could be wasting a lot of money—on average, generics are 80% to 85% cheaper than their brand-name counterparts. Contrary to the myth that generic drugs are held to different standards than brand-name drugs, there is no significant difference between them. Generic drugs are allowed to differ from brand-name drugs only insofar as appearance and inactive ingredients. By law, medication dose, safety, quality and instructions must be the same. Stores have gotten into price wars over generic drugs: Target now charges $4 for hundreds of medicines, for example, and Meijer and Publix are among those that offer some drugs gratis, which is why you may want to…

5. Compare pharmacies. Drug prices can vary widely between pharmacies, even locally, so you may want to shop around before simply going to the nearest drug store. Websites like GoodRx and LowestMed compare pharmacies within zip codes for specific medications, and even offer coupons and drug information. You may be surprised to find that some drugs vary by $50 or more for the same supply and dosage. In that case, the cost of convenience may just be too high.

 

More stories from NerdWallet Health:

So You’re Pregnant? Here’s What You Need to Know About Your Maternity Coverage and Benefits

How to Save On Asthma Medications

Patient Advocates: Your New Best Friend for Managing Your Health Care Experience

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