THE HELP DESK The Help Desk: Top Tips

Cut your health care costs now

While Congress still strives towards health care reform, here are some ways you can reduce your medical expenses.

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By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

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For more information on managing your largest investment, check out Gerri Willis' 'Home Rich,' now in bookstores.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- If rising medical expenses are making it difficult for you and you can't afford to wait for our new health care policy, here a some options for lowering your health care costs today.

1. Get screened for free

Early detection can save a ton of money, if not your life, in the long run. For a free, personalized online health evaluation, go the Great American Health Check at www.cancer.org.

AARP and Walgreens (WAG, Fortune 500) have also recently launched on a Wellness Tour that will deliver free health screenings to communities across the country. You can be screened for blood pressure, cholesterol levels and glucose levels.

If you don't have any insurance, you can also go to federally-funded clinics to get immunizations, checkups and dental care. And you pay what you can afford, based on your income. To find a health center near you, go to findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov.

2. Negotiate

If you've recently lost your job or you face a deductible that going to devastate your budget, try letting your doctor know. They may negotiate price with you.

The key to negotiating successfully is knowledge. Call your insurer and ask a customer-service representative how much the company will cover for the type of service you need. Then pass that information along to your doctor.

If your doctor isn't willing to come down in price, you may want to find a physician who will. And each hospital has its own rules about negotiating bills too. Don't assume you always have to pay full price. If you have the cash on hand, laying out the moolah before the procedure could net you a discount too.

3. Scrutinize your file

Pay close attention to bills. Experts say there are errors in eight out of 10 medical bills. Make sure you keep records of every test and medicine you take. Check that against your medical file. You'll find that at the hospitals billing office. If you see a mistake, send a certified letter requesting a corrected bill, and a copy of all documentation to your insurer.

4. Compare drug prices

Prescription medicine can be a huge drain on your budget. Compare the prices of medicines online so you can see what cheaper options may be available to you.

Consumer Reports has a Web site that lists the best value drugs. If you have a prescription drug plan through your job, you may be able to score a cheaper price by getting your medications delivered by mail. Don't forget pharmacies in retailers like Walgreens or Kmart. Often these locations have cheaper medicines that traditional pharmacies. And of course, make sure you talk to your doctor of pharmacist. You may get the heads up on when a certain medicine is going to go generic.

Got a financial dilemma? Go to CNNMoney.com/helpdesk to submit questions, read the Help Desk articles and check out new Help Desk videos. And tune in to CNN's Newsroom Tuesdays and Fridays, when Gerri Willis and other experts answer your questions. To top of page

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