Stay Healthy for Less

The worst economic climate in decades continues to take its toll on Americans. Most of the focus has been on the loss of jobs and homes, however, several reports indicate that the recession is also putting the health of workers and their families in jeopardy.

Over six million jobs have been lost since 2007. When jobs disappear, so do health insurance plans, leaving many families unable to cover the costs of both routine and emergency medical care. The situation is even worse for single people, who often do not qualify for Medicaid unless they have a severe disability. In addition, employers are increasingly pushing health-care costs to workers.

This economic crisis has driven many workers to change their behavior to improve their health and well-being and rein in health care costs, according to a survey commissioned and released by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH). The group commissioned the survey to determine how the economic downturn is affecting American workers and to identify opportunities and areas where businesses should work more closely with their employees to support them during the tough recession environment.

Fifteen hundred workers employed at large employers (2,000 or more employees) between ages 22 and 69 were surveyed. They had benefits provided through an employer-sponsored or union-sponsored health plan. Among the key findings:

  • Twenty-seven percent reported that they didn't have health care treatment to save money on co-payments or co-insurance costs.
  • One in five respondents didn't take their prescription drug dosage as prescribed by their doctors. Many workers, particularly older workers (44 percent of those between ages 45 and 64), reported that their mental health has been negatively affected by the economy.
  • Nearly all workers report reviewing their health plan options during their last annual enrollment period and about one in four changed health plans as a result.
  • Health improvement is more of a priority than it was a year before the downturn began in 2007. Fifty-two percent of respondents reported that living a healthy lifestyle is more of a priority than it was-about one in three reported exercising more and 46 percent said they were eating healthier, which included cutting back on fast food.

6 Strategies for Better Health on a Budget

Being more proactive about your heath is a step in the right direction. When you postpone or forgo needed medical treatment it often leads to more serious illness and more costly care, stresses Diane Rowland in a study about weathering the recession published in the March 2009 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. Here are some other ways to stay healthy for less during the recession:

• Lose weight. If you're overweight try to shed at least 10 to 20 pounds, which can reduce your risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.

• Practice prevention. Exercising and eating healthier are good starts. You should also try to get more sleep, drink less alcohol, reduce stress, take a multivitamin, and treat injuries or symptoms sooner rather than later.

• Cut the frills. When buying medication find out if a generic version is available. Also, many health supplies are available in a wide range; some have extras you may not need. For instance, skip expensive frames and tints on glasses, or use store-bought insoles instead of custom-made orthotics. It's always better to find a cheaper option than to skip a necessary health supply.

• Choose a cheaper pharmacy. The price of medications and other health supplies can vary significantly. Call different pharmacies to compare prices.

• Negotiate costs. In these tough times your health provider may be more willing to bargain with you for the price of services. Explain your financial situation and try to make a deal.

• Check out the COBRA rules. If you lose your job you can still take advantage of health insurance provided by your employer for up to 18 months, thanks to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). While you'll pay for the coverage without subsidy from your employer, it may be cheaper than buying a similar policy on your own.




Journal: New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 360 (13):1273-1276. Study Date: March 26, 2009. Study Name: Health Care and Medicaid - Weathering the Recession. Author: Diane Rowland, Sc.D.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Web, 2012

Employment Situation Summary. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Web. April 2012