Ways to Save Health Care

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Maybe your health insurance premiums have skyrocketed since last year. Maybe your employer is shifting more medical fees onto you. Or perhaps a new diagnosis, emergency-room visit, or other life change is leaving you with more health-related expenses than you ever expected.

For all of these reasons and then some, Americans are spending more on their health than at any time in history. The good news? There are ways to start saving on medical expenses without compromising the quality of your care.

Shop around. All health insurance plans are not created equal. In fact, according to a National Committee for Quality Assurance study, providers vary widely in their levels of service, approaches to preventative care, and accessibility of treatment. For this reason, it's important to compare plans before you choose one. Even if you've had an insurance plan for years, don't stop shopping to make sure your benefits and costs are competitive.

Get healthy. It may sound like a no-brainer, but the healthier you are, the less you'll have to spend on health care. More than 70 percent of employers currently offer, or plan to offer, financial incentives to employees who participate in company wellness initiatives, reports the National Business Group on Health. In addition, smoking can add hundreds of dollars to your annual health-care costs, but once you've been smoke-free for a year, some insurers will reverse the charges.

Invest in an HSA. According to experts, one of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to health care is not investing in a tax-advantaged health savings account (HSA). With an HSA, people who are enrolled in a high deductable health plan (HDHP) put a certain amount of money from each paycheck into an account for future medical expenses. The money isn't taxed, and if you don't use it all in a given year, you can simply carry it over into the next year.

Invest in an FSA. Like an HSA, a flexible spending account (FSA) offers a tax-advantaged way to save for medical expenses. In this case, though, you don't have to be enrolled in an HDHP to reap the benefits. However, there is a "use it or lose it" provision, so you'll have to spend the money you save within the year. In both cases, be sure to check with your plan to make sure your expenses are approved by the IRS as a qualified medical expense.

Think free. If your health insurance plan offers free exams or wellness services, it's important that you take advantage of them. These may include potentially life-saving screenings, such mammograms or prostate specific antigen tests (PSAs), as well as exams to monitor your blood pressure or cholesterol levels. If you don't have insurance, seek out neighborhood screening programs.

Save on prescriptions. The cost of prescriptions is continuing to rise, but there are several ways to save on medications. Be sure to ask your doctor for samples, especially if it's a one-time treatment. For longer-term therapy, request generics, and shop around to compare costs at local drugstores and through mail-order pharmacies.

Plan ahead. All too often, people wait until they're older or until they really need health insurance to invest in it. But not surprisingly, the young and healthy get the lowest rates. So try to get a policy while you're still young. That way, you'll pay a much lower premium and prevent costly emergency medical expenses that could deplete your savings down the road.

Skin Biopsy

A skin biopsy is a procedure in which a doctor cuts and removes a small sample of skin to have it tested. This sample may help your doctor diagnose diseases such as skin cancer, infection, or other skin disorders.

There are several types of skin biopsy, including:

* Shave biopsy: The doctor shaves a thin layer from the top of a lesion.
* Punch biopsy: The doctor uses an instrument called a punch to remove a cylindrical section through all layers of the lesion.
* Excisional biopsy: The doctor uses a scalpel to take off the entire lesion. This method is used for smaller lesions.
* Incisional biopsy: The doctor uses a scalpel to remove a small sample of a large lesion.

How Is a Skin Biopsy Performed?

The doctor will first cleanse the biopsy site, and then numb the skin by using an anesthetic (pain-relieving) spray, cream, or injection. The skin is then sampled using one of the above procedures. Shave biopsies do not usually need stitches, while punch, excisional, and incisional biopsies will sometimes be closed with sutures. The procedure is usually done in the doctor's office.
What to Expect Following a Biopsy

After the biopsy is performed you may have some soreness around the biopsied site for 1 to 2 weeks. Tylenol is usually sufficient to relieve any discomfort. If you had stitches after the procedure, keep the area as clean and as dry as possible. Your doctor will tell you when the stitches should be removed (usually within one week). If adhesive steri-strips (which look like small pieces of tape) were used to close the incision, do not remove them. They will gradually fall off on their own. If the strips do not fall off on their own, your health care provider will remove them at your next follow-up appointment.

You should expect a small scar from the biopsy.
What Is Done With the Biopsy Sample?

The tissue is processed, and a pathologist examines the biopsy sample under a microscope to determine if there is any disease. The results usually come back within 1-2 weeks.
When Should I Call the Doctor?

Call your doctor if you have bleeding that can't be stopped by applying pressure, or if you have any questions or concerns after the procedure.

Treatment & Drug for Dry Skin

In most cases, dry skin problems respond well to self-care measures, such as using moisturizers and avoiding long, hot showers and baths. If you have very dry and scaly skin, your doctor may recommend you use an over-the-counter (nonprescription) cream that contains lactic acid or lactic acid and urea.

If you have more serious skin diseases, such as ichthyosis or psoriasis, your doctor may prescribe prescription creams and ointments or other treatments in addition to home care.

Sometimes dry skin leads to dermatitis, which causes red, itchy skin. In these cases, treatment may include hydrocortisone-containing lotions. If your skin cracks open, your doctor may prescribe wet dressings with mildly astringent properties to contract your skin and reduce secretions and prevent infection.

Dry Skin Complication

Dry skin that's not cared for can lead to:

* Dermatitis (eczema). This condition causes redness, cracking and inflammation.
* Folliculitis. This is an inflammation of your hair follicles.
* Cellulitis. This is a potentially serious bacterial infection of the skin's underlying tissues that may enter the lymphatic system and blood vessels.

These complications are most likely to occur when your skin's normal protective mechanisms are severely compromised. For example, severely dry skin can cause deep cracks or fissures, which can open up and bleed, opening the way for invading bacteria.

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