It is important for consumers to approach medical care as they do other purchases – shopping for not only quality but also price.

The first rule, experts and advocates say, is to ask a lot of questions: Is that test really necessary? Is there a generic version of that medication? Are there less expensive alternatives to this treatment? And, finally, how much is this procedure going to cost?

Here are a few tips on how to start saving:

Shop around for medication. lists cash prices for generic medications and find you the lowest price from surrounding pharmacies, with coupons on the site. The site doesn’t include Costco, whose pharmacy is open even to non-members and often has lower prices for drugs. Wal-Mart, Target, and many supermarkets offer $4 generic drugs ­– but not the same ones – which may be less than your insurance copay.

Know what your health insurance policy covers.

The time to dig into your policy is before you need to use it. Find out about pre-approvals, emergency room visits, copays for doctor visits and coinsurance for procedures.

Ask whether tests, prescriptions or procedures are really necessary.

Doctors are becoming more in tune and will acknowledge that health care costs are high. If your doctor knows you are paying cash, they might suggest that you wait to see if a condition resolves before ordering an expensive test. They might also recommend other lab facilities that offer discounted cash prices for labs. Doctors are becoming less off-put when patients ask about keeping their healthcare cost low.

Ask for prices upfront, and ask about discounts for cash payments.

This may require calling your insurance company, doctor, and hospital to find out what a procedure or an office visit will cost. Remember that some doctors and facilities will offer a discount if you pay cash.

Pick the right facility. If your condition isn’t life-threatening, don’t go to the emergency room.

A persistent cough or a broken finger may be better treated in a store clinic or an urgent care center at a much lower cost. But not all clinics or urgent care centers are the same. Investigate the facilities near you before you need them so you can make the right choice when you’re ill. Also, call and ask about cash prices for urgent care or walk-in clinics.

Consider online, telephone or video consultations.

AffordaCare insurance offers telemedicine as a perk. This helps prevent unnecessary and costly emergency room or urgent care visits by simply contacting a doctor at anytime for free. Telemedicine allows affordable nationwide network of medical physicians who provide medical advice and issue non-narcotic prescriptions.  Staffed with licensed, registered nurses to speak to members regarding their medical needs and to arrange consultations with doctors 365 days a year, 24 hours per day, and 7 days per week.

Practice preventive care.

To treat disease is much more expensive than to prevent disease.That means eating healthy, plenty of exercise and sleep. Take advantage of your free preventive visit and make sure to visit your primary care doctor for treatment of any chronic conditions you may have to make sure it does not get worse.  

We encourage you to compare healthcare costs. Some doctors, clinics, and hospitals are less expensive than others. Use our Find a Provider Tool to see how you can save.