How to cut health-care costs

Where to get low-cost screenings in the Treasure Valley

Screening tests for Ada County residents are available through the Central District Health Department, 707 N. Armstrong Place, Boise, near the intersection of Five Mile Road and Emerald Street. Among the services:

Cholesterol Screening / Cardiac Risk Assessment: Screening costs $22 for a 22-panel profile that includes HDL/LDL levels, Chol/HDL ratio, triglycerides, blood pressure check, and nutrition and exercise guidelines. Informational pamphlets are also available. Before your screening, you must fast for 12 hours and drink plenty of water to hydrate your veins. The department recommends no alcohol for 48 hours before your visit. Clinic also includes free blood pressure check. This is a walk-in clinic. Hours for this test are 6:30-9 a.m. the first Tuesday of each month. Call 327-8547 for more information.

Clinics for sexually transmitted infections, or STIs: Get counseling and testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Weekend and walk-in appointments are available. The health department charges on a sliding-fee scale. The Idaho State Laboratory may charge additional fees for processing tests. Call 327-7400 for an appointment. Other screening and health services, including sports physicals, are available. Check the department's Web site: www.cdhd.idaho.gov.

The Southwest District Health Department, serves residents of Canyon County. Services include general athletic and pre-employment physicals. Call 455-5435. For diabetes education and prevention, call 455-5333. Cholesterol screenings are offered monthly, along with blood pressure screenings and nutrition education. Call 455-5343 or check out the Web site.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare offers disease-prevention services, including Women's Health Check, which offers low-income or uninsured women who met eligibility criteria free mammograms and Pap tests. Check the Web site at www.healthandwelfare.idaho.gov and follow the links or call 211.

The 2-1-1 Idaho CareLine is a statewide, comprehensive community information and referral service. Dial 211 or check the Web site.

10 ways to save money on health care

1. Know your health insurance plan's rules. Then follow them. For instance, if you don't know if your allergist is in your network of doctors, you could pay more than you should for health care. Blue Cross of Idaho and Regence BlueShield of Idaho, the state's biggest insurers, have Web sites and phone numbers. Use them.

2. Pick a health plan that gives you the most bang for your buck. Don't automatically get the cheapest plan. If it doesn't pay for the benefits you need, you aren't getting a good deal. If you're young and healthy, you might want to go for lower premiums and higher copays. If you're older, have a chronic health condition or have young children, you're probably better off with higher premiums and lower copays.

3. Cut your pharmacy costs. Most health plans have a three-tiered system for prescription drugs. The lowest tier is the least expensive and includes generic drugs. The middle tier is made up of medications your insurer considers cost-effective. The top tier is the most expensive brand-name drugs. Save by asking your doctor to prescribe you medicines in the first two tiers. Ask if you can split pills to save money. Check the Web site, which helps connect eligible low-income people with discount drugs direct from the pharmaceutical company. Call 888-477-2669.

4. Coordinate your family's coverage. Dual coverage can be expensive. If both you and your spouse have coverage, be sure it makes financial sense to pay for both. You don't want to pay more than you'll ever get back in benefits.

5. Take advantage of tax breaks. Consumer-driven health plans, flexible spending accounts, health reimbursement arrangements and medical savings accounts are becoming more popular. They let you pay for certain health-care costs on a pre-tax basis.

6. Quit smoking. Save yourself the cost of buying cigarettes, as well as the extra health-care costs, about one-third higher than for nonsmokers over a lifetime. Check out the Web site Idaho QuitNet, for free help.

7. Lose weight. Being obese adds $395 each year to your average $1,500 a year in health-care costs, more than smoking (which costs an extra $230) or problem drinking (an extra $150).

8. Exercise more. Exercise improves health. Healthy people live longer. A total of 18.8 percent of Idahoans say they don't engage in physical activity during their leisure time, according to a state study.

9. Seek out free or low-cost health screenings, checkups and services. For example, Micron Technology Inc., Boise's largest private employer, has an on-site health clinic to provide low-cost care to employees. Employers also may offer flu shots or other services. Pharmacies sometimes offer cholesterol tests or other health screenings.

10. Search for a subsidy. If you are uninsured, see if you or your family qualifies for low-cost health insurance through Medicare, Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program. Call the Idaho CareLine by dialing 211.

Compiled by Colleen LaMay with help from tips on Insure.com