Are You a Savvy Health Care Consumer?

Now more than ever, you can be in control when it comes to buying and paying for health care. Millions of Americans are buying their own health plans, and a growing number of people are enrolling in consumer-directed plans that encourage them to take more responsibility for the cost of their care, according to Sam Ho, M.D, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare.


With that in mind, how savvy are you when it comes to making decisions about your health care? Take this quiz to find out.


1. You have to get a minor surgical procedure. How do you figure out where to go for care?

A.     I call the doctor closest to my home to see if he or she has any openings.

B.     I go with the surgeon recommended by my primary care doctor.

C.     I contact friends, family and coworkers who have had similar procedures and ask how they liked their doctors.

D.     I log on to resources on to review contracted rates for the procedure in my area and compare the quality of care and cost ratings for doctors and facilities in my network.

E.     All of the above


Answer: E.  All of the above. Convenience and recommendations from friends and family can be important when you’re trying to find a doctor or hospital. But truly savvy health care shoppers always look for factual information to help them make more informed decisions about where to get care. Try checking out the health care provider search features available on the Health4Me app or at You don’t have to be enrolled in a UnitedHealthcare plan to use the tool.


2. Congratulations, you’ve found a doctor! Now, how might you lower your odds of getting a surprise medical bill when the surgery is done?

A.     I go into research mode: I find out what will be involved in my surgery and create a written list of all the medical professionals involved, including assistants, radiologists, and anesthesiologists so I can confirm they’re all in-network.

B.     Since I know my doctor is in my plan’s network, I figure there’s not much more I can do, so I just cross my fingers and hope for the best.

C.     I ask my surgeon’s office how much the procedure will cost.

D.     I check my health plan’s deductible and out-of-pocket maximums.


Answer: A, C and D. Don’t want a surprise bill? Arm yourself with all the information you can before you’re wheeled into the operating room. First, find out exactly what’s involved in your procedure. Then, check to see what your health plan covers, as well as how much you might be expected to pay out of pocket, including your deductible, coinsurance and copays.

Finally, find out who will be involved at every stage of your procedure and whether they’re in your network. If your surgeon is in your health plan’s network, but your anesthesiologist is not, you might get a higher bill than you expected, as plans typically charge more for out-of-network physicians. This may sound like a lot of effort, but it’s better than getting an unexpected bill!


3. What is your relationship like with your doctor?

A.     I’m pretty healthy, so I don’t see any one doctor regularly. When I need a doctor, I find one.

B.     I have a primary care doctor, but to be honest, I usually just head to urgent care if I’m sick.

C.     I have a primary care doctor who I see for everyday health issues and checkups. I trust my doctor, and he or she knows me well.


Answer: C. Savvy health care consumers know that their primary care doctor is the captain of their health team. Sure, there will be times when you need to see someone else, but for annual physicals, preventive care, and most routine health issues, your primary care physician should be your first stop. A doctor who knows you and your medical history may pick up on things that a physician seeing you for the first time will not. Ideally, your primary care doctor has all your medical records at her fingertips and can refer you to a specialist if you need one.


4. When should you consider visiting an urgent care or convenient care facility?

A.     Anytime! When I have a cough, when my sinuses feel stuffed up, or if I feel a little dizzy. I like the convenience of walking in without an appointment.

B.     If I have a relatively minor injury like a sprain or a strain or if my symptoms are really bugging me, but my regular doctor doesn’t have any appointments available.

C.     If I’m traveling and can’t see my primary care doctor.


Answer: B or C. Urgent care may be a convenient resource for savvy health care consumers, particularly if you can’t see your primary care doctor due to travel or a booked-up schedule. But urgent care is not a substitute for a primary care doctor who knows you well. If you decide to visit an urgent care or convenient care facility, be sure to compare how much you’ll have to pay out of pocket compared to visiting your primary care doctor. Check out this comprehensive guide for tips on when to seek care at your primary care doctor, urgent care or the emergency room.


5. Let’s talk about your eyes and your teeth: What are you doing to keep them healthy?

A. I brush twice a day and floss fairly regularly. As for my eyes, I either don’t have any vision problems or wear my glasses and contacts as prescribed.

B. I do all of the above, plus visit the dentist at least once a year and get an eye exam every two years.

C. I brush twice a day, but flossing….let’s say I do it when I remember. I have a feeling I could use an eye exam.


Answer: B. The state of your eyes and teeth can affect your overall health. Gum disease, for example, has been linked to conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and preterm labor in pregnant women. Eye doctors, too, can get a glimpse of your  health through your eyes. While skipping visits to the eye doctor and dentist or opting out of dental and vision insurance might seem like a smart way to save money, it may well cost you more in the long run.

Proper dental and vision care starts with regular checkups. The American Optometric Association recommends that adults over 60 get an eye exam every year, while those between 18 and 60 can get by with an exam every two years. People at higher risk for eye disease, including those with diabetes or high blood pressure, may need more frequent checkups. Meanwhile, the American Dental Association recommends one or two visits per year for some people, but if your teeth and gums are in bad shape, you may need more frequent visits.


6. Have you looked into workplace wellness programs?

A. I heard something about them during open enrollment, but haven’t paid much attention since then.

B. Definitely! I was able to lower my health insurance premiums and benefit from setting and achieving a health goal.

C. What are those?


Answer: B. More and more employers are offering their employees a chance to earn rewards for meeting health goals such as lowering their cholesterol, quitting smoking or losing weight. Some common incentives include gym membership discounts, lower premium costs or merchant gift cards. In fact, 74 percent of employers now offer employee wellness incentives, and the average incentive amount has increased from $512 in 2013 to $742 in 2017, according to a survey by the National Business Group on Health. Why leave money on the table? See what your employer and health plan may be offering.


7. If you take prescription medications, how good are you about taking your medicine exactly as your doctor prescribed it?

A. I would really like to take my medication properly, but I can’t afford to do so. I find myself skipping doses to make it last longer.

B. I try to remember, but I know I sometimes forget to take a few doses here and there.

C. I tend to forget my medication, so I use a pillbox and an app on my cell phone to keep it all straight.

D. One or more of my prescription medications make me feel sick, so I’ve stopped taking it.


Answer: C. Your doctor has prescribed a certain dose of medication because he or she believes it’s the appropriate treatment for your health issue—so you should take all of your medicines exactly as directed. If forgetfulness is a problem, try using a pillbox or setting a reminder on your phone.  In addition, if you are taking a medication for a chronic health issue, you may be able to order a three-month supply of medicine through the mail, which is also often cheaper. If you’re finding it difficult to pay for your medications, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about switching to a generic version. Finally, if your medication is causing unpleasant side effects, talk to your doctor – he or she may be able to switch you to a similar medication that offers the same benefits minus the side effects.

How did you do? With these answers in your pocket, you are well on your way to becoming a savvier health care consumer — and your wallet might thank you for it! The truth is that everyone may benefit financially from shopping around for  care at the most affordable price, knowing the care setting for their needs, and taking advantage of incentive programs.