4 ways to trim health costs today

"For simple acute problems such as sore throats, ear infections or urinary tract infections, they are a great alternative to an emergency department," he says.

Use prescription drug programs

Eligible individuals and families can get prescription medications at little to no cost by signing up for a patient assistance program. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance, or PPA, offers information about many such programs.

"PPA is a clearinghouse that helps uninsured and financially struggling patients gain access to the medications they need," says Edward Belkin, vice president of communications and public affairs for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America in Washington, D.C., which sponsors the PPA.

Patients can also get information about such programs from their doctor or medication manufacturers.

Also, keep your eye out for other low-cost prescription drug programs offered by retailers. For example, the Southeast regional grocer Publix offers to fill many antibiotic prescriptions for free, and Walmart has offered low-cost prescription drugs for years.

Seek out dental schools

Another way to trim your health care costs is to visit a dental school for care.

"Each school will have its own fee schedule, but school fees are often 50 percent of prevailing market rates for a community," says Dr. Matthew Messina, a Cleveland-based dentist and a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association.

According to Messina, the quality of care at a dental school is comparable to that of a large dental clinic. However, he notes that you will trade time for money.

For example, a procedure that typically takes an hour in a private dental office, such as a simple filling, may take three hours at a dental school clinic. That's because "each step of a procedure must be checked by an instructor," Messina says.

"If time is a concern for you, a dental school clinic would be troublesome," he says.

Other potential drawbacks for some patients may include being "assigned" a dentist, rather than choosing your own, and limited accessibility.

"There are only 48 dental schools, and they are situated only in major metropolitan areas," Messina says. "People interested in discounted care may want to contact their local dental society or the American Dental Association for information."

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