Looking for ways to reduce health care costs? Try these 5 tips

(BPT) - Do you know how your health plan benefits work? If not, it’s a great time to learn how to make them work for you.

Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer of UnitedHealthcare, offers the following five tips that may lead you to better health and even help save you money.

1. Understand your plan

You may be able to save yourself a lot of time, stress and money if you understand your plan before you need to use your benefits. Learn what your health plan covers — including medical, pharmacy and preventive benefits. When in doubt, call the number on your health plan ID card for the most up-to-date information.

It’s also a good time to make sure you understand common health plan terms, such as deductible, copay and coinsurance.

2. Ask about lower-cost prescriptions

Talk to your doctor about the cost of your medication. Your doctor may be able to help find the most affordable option for you. Many doctors are now using technology like PreCheck MyScript that enables them to view precise medication costs in real time before leaving the exam room.

Generic medications are often more affordable than their brand-name equivalents. In addition, some pharmacy benefit plans now offer discounts at the point of sale in the form of rebates, or a partial refund, from pharmacy manufacturers. These discounts could potentially lower your out-of-pocket costs on select medications.

3. Stay in-network

You can help keep costs down by staying in-network for your health care services. Your insurance company has contracted with certain health care providers to pay an amount of money for your visits, usually at a discounted rate. Because of those discounts, you pay less when you see a health care provider within the network vs. one who’s outside the network.

For out-of-network providers, your insurance may cover only a fraction of the cost of care — or none — depending on your plan. Before you make your next appointment, check with your health plan to make sure the provider or facility is in network.

4. Know your care options before you go

If your health issue isn’t an emergency, it's usually best to go to your primary care doctor for care. Your doctor knows you and your health history, can access your medical records, can take care of many health needs, and is able to provide follow-up care and refer you to specialists.

If it’s not possible to visit your regular doctor, you may be able to receive fast, professional and lower-cost care at an urgent care center, a convenience care clinic or an online doctor visit. Online doctor visits are a great option for treating conditions such as colds, migraines and allergies. Online visits may cost as little as $40 or $50 per visit, much less than a trip to urgent care or an emergency room.

5. Take advantage of wellness discounts and incentives

Many health plans offer financial incentives that reward you for taking healthier actions, such as completing a health survey, exercising or not using nicotine.

An increasing number of employers are offering wellness discounts and incentive-based wellness programs to help their employees improve their health. These initiatives may also lead to increased employee satisfaction, productivity and reduced costs.

For more tips and information about health care, visit newsroom.uhc.com.