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4 questions to ask to get the best deals on health care and prescriptions

Key Points
  • It's important for consumers to be savvy shoppers to get the best deals on medical and prescription costs.
  • Your insurance negotiates the best rates with a group of hospitals, doctors, labs and diagnostic-imaging locations within its network.
  • Always start by asking doctors and clinics if they take your health plan.
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It has never been easier to shop for the best deals and health care is no exception

It has never been easier for consumers to shop for the best deal. Want a cheap flight? Just ask a search engine which airline has the best fares.

Health care isn't quite there yet, but asking the right questions can help you save on out-of-pocket costs.

Here are some of the questions to keep in mind to get the best deals on your care and prescriptions.

1. Is it in-network?

Always ask if it's in-network. Your insurance negotiates the best rates with a group of hospitals, doctors, labs and diagnostic imaging locations within its network.

Seeking care out-of-network will mean you'll pay most of the bill out-of-pocket.

So always start by asking doctors and clinics if they take your health plan before your go. But don't stop there. If they order a test, ask them to choose an in-network facility.

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When it comes to prescriptions, don't forget that pharmacy benefits use networks, too — and they also have preferred drug lists.

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2. Can I use a generic?

For medications, always ask the doctor whether you can use a generic version. This will save you the most money.

If there's no generic, ask if there's a brand that's on your benefit plan's preferred list, which could help save you on co-pays.

And ask the doctor if they have samples to get you started. Don't be shy about asking. For asthma inhalers and newer meds, doctors' offices often have samples that they'll give you for free.

3. Is mail order cheapest?

Where and how you get your prescription can make a difference in how much you'll pay. It can take some homework to figure to find the best deal, but it's worth it.

An in-network pharmacy is usually the best bet. Your pharmacy benefit plan's mail-order system could potentially provide the best savings and most convenience for repeat prescriptions, especially if you can order three months' supply rather than refill monthly.

But it pays to shop around with a prescription drug search-engine before you commit, such as www.goodrx.com, www.wellrx.com, and www.rxpricequotes.com.

Some of the new online pharmacies could offer competitive prices, so it's worth checking their sites.

Sometimes talking to the pharmacist at your local retail drugstore, or the pharmacy counter at your grocery store could result in surprise savings.

4. Is the cash price cheaper?

Even with a cheap generic drug, be sure to ask the pharmacist about the cash price. Your insurer may think it has negotiated the best price for you, but pharmacies are competing hard for your business. Sometimes they offer a flat rate that's a buck or two lower than your insurance co-pay.

So don't be shy about asking for your best deal. As a health-care consumer, it really can pay to ask the right questions.

Check out 4 Money Lessons Everyone Should Know by Age 25 via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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Key Points
  • There are two kinds of tax-advantaged savings accounts that let you put money away for health-care needs: flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs).
  • FSAs let you put away up to $2,700 for an individual this year, or $5,000 for a family through payroll deductions.
  • Under tax rules an HSA is a lot like an IRA savings account; the money you don't use can roll over from year to year.
  • You can contribute up to $3,500 this year for an individual and up to $7,000 for a family