So how’s that medical insurance thing going?

About six months ago, I wrote a popular blog post about how I price-shop around for medical, dental, and vision services. So what do you do about medical insurance? So how’s that working out for us?

Prescriptions:

Have you ever heard anyone say “You can actually get that medicine in (insert name of country here) without a prescription!” During our summer in Europe, I decided to find out if it’s true. By the end of our Camino hike across Spain, I’d finished the years’ worth of prescription thyroid medication that I’d filled at the Walmart in Florida. (Don’t forget -if you pay out of pocket, you can buy all of your refills at once, instead of 90 days at a time!). I was pretty stressed out thinking about getting my prescription filled in Santiago. I needed to find a Farmacia, ask for a pharmacist who speaks English, explain which medicine I need (I kept the pill bottle), possibly get sent to a clinic to see a doctor and get a blood test (all by public transportation), possibly wait for the results, and hopefully get a new prescription by the end of it all. I’d worked myself into a bit of a frenzy thinking about it, but Santiago was the only place we’d be staying for more than one night at a time, so I bit the bullet and gave it a shot. I walked to the closest Farmacia, and timidly asked “Hablas usted Inglés?” The pharmacist answered, “a little” and took a look at my pill bottle. My thyroid medication is extremely common, so in less than ten minutes, I walked out of the Farmacia with 100 pills of my exact dosage for 9.95€. Yahoo! Emboldened, I walked down the street to the next Farmacia and asked again. This time, I walked out with 100 thyroid pills for 4.95€ Double yahoo! For 15 Euros or about $16.75 I had enough medication to carry me over until I’m in one place long enough to find a doctor and get settled. I also take a slow-release pain reliever for osteoarthritis. When I ran out of the pills in Portugal, I MAY have used my status as a pilgrim walking to Fatima to ask for a little bit of sympathy from the pharmacists. In Porto I was able to buy two boxes of 60 pills of meloxicam each for a total of 20€ Once again, it’s enough to last me through the rest of my European summer and until I could sort out something more permanent, and the price was quite reasonable.

What else have I done to keep medical costs down in the past six months?

Vision:

I’m extremely happy with the quality, style, and durability of Warby Parker prescription eyeglasses. My first pair of prescription sunglasses lasted for two years in the extremely harsh environment of sailing – even spending one whole night at the bottom of the ocean in the harbor under our boat, requiring a snorkel rescue the next day. So during our brief trip to Colorado this summer I ordered two new pairs: a clear lens pair for $95 and a pair of polarized sunglasses for $175. Not dirt cheap by any means, but try comparing to prices in the optometrist’s office and you’ll find it’s a pretty darn good deal. Stylish too!

Dental:

I bought another Groupon this year for Capt. Mike’s and my dental cleaning and x-rays. It’s a great deal for new customers, but of course they are going to try to find something else that needs fixing in your mouth, because that’s how the dental office makes their money. This dentist found two old fillings that she recommended replacing, and it think it’s legit. I have a mouth full of fillings and the old ones do fail eventually. The dentist’s office manager gave me the option to pay cash using their dental discount plan. But wait! With an hour of research on the internet, I found a different dental discount plan that allowed me to pay by the month rather than subscribing for a full year, and I could cancel as soon as the fillings were complete. AND the fillings were cheaper too even provided at the same office by the same dentist. Lesson learned – it never hurts to shop around, and don’t hesitate to ask for a few days to decide before agreeing to treatment.

Flu Shots:

Sure, my international insurance plan doesn’t cover preventative care like free flu shots. But honestly, I’d rather pay between $20 to $40 out-of-pocket once a year rather than paying thousands of dollars in premiums for high-deductible plan I don’t use! Once again, I did a bit of internet sleuthing. The drug store chains don’t post flu shot prices on their web sites, but you can easily Google it and find bloggers who have done the price comparison research. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Costco offers the cheapest flu shots this year at $19.99. But you MIGHT be surprised to learn that ANYONE can use the Costco pharmacy services for prescriptions or shots even without a membership. I was surprised! And I’m going to keep it in mind for future cost cutting. There weren’t any Costco warehouse stores near where we were staying in upstate New York, so I went to the next cheapest option at Sam’s Club. $35 with a normal membership, $30 with a Plus membership. There was no line at the pharmacy, I walked right in and had my flu shot complete for the year in less than ten minutes. Drug stores, such as CVS and Rite Aid, are more convenient locations for getting a flu shot, but they’ll charge at least $40. Sometimes they’ll give you a gift certificate or coupon toward a prescription discount to offset the higher cost.

Doctors and Accidents:

Thankfully, I haven’t had any injuries or accidents or gotten very ill, so I haven’t had to see a doctor since I signed up for the IMG international medical plan. But I do have a United Health Services insurance card with an individual and group id number that works both in the US and overseas. The premiums for Mike and I are affordable, and the deductible is “only” $1000 so if a big accident did take place, we could cover those costs more easily than we could with a high deductible plan. I’ll be in Puerto Rico for at least a month this fall, so I’ll go to a medical center there (after doing some cost comparisons, of course) and get prescriptions for the next year.

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