How to Maximize Health Care Coverage

By Tom Murphy, AP Business Writer

Job loss or the fear of it has pushed more people to use their employer-sponsored health insurance before they lose it.

Major health insurers have seen their medical costs rise in recent quarters, in part because people covered by employer-sponsored plans have rushed to use services before their benefits are cut off.

People trying to make the most of their coverage while they still have it need to keep certain priorities in mind. Here are some things to consider.

GET A PHYSICAL

Visit your doctor to get an assessment of your overall health. Know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. Have the doctor perform a skin cancer screening.

"Not that you're looking to find something wrong, but if there is something, and if any treatment is required, you want to be able to do that under your coverage," said Tracey Baker, a financial planner and co-author of the book "Navigating Your Health Benefits for Dummies."

Don't forget dental and eye exams. Cavities caught at an early stage are generally easier to treat. Have your prescription eye glasses adjusted while you still have coverage.

INVEST IN PREVENTIVE MEDICINE

Get a flu shot this fall. Even if it's not covered by insurance, it will be much cheaper than a hospital stay if you wind up really sick.

Colon cancer screenings and mammograms also should be done before coverage ends. Dr. Jane Sadler, a family physician, recommends screenings for people older than 50 or sooner for patients with a family history of colon cancer.

The Garland, Texas, doctor said women older than 40 also should think about annual mammograms.

Keep your weight under control to ward off future medical bills. A person who loses about 11 pounds can see a substantial drop in blood pressure and an improvement in cholesterol and blood sugar, Sadler said.

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