If you haven't gone through the fine print in your health insurance policy -- and let's be honest, most of us haven't -- you may be paying for procedures and prescriptions that are commonly covered.
For instance, did you know nursing mothers can get up to 90 percent off a breast pump? Or that the $3,000 Lasik surgery procedure you've been saving up for may actually be covered? Or that gym membership you've been mulling?
On "The Early Show" Tuesday, Woman's Day magazine Special Projects Director Jaimee Zanzinger pointed to many frequently overlooked benefits, and explained how you might be able to save hundreds, even thousands of dollars on medical costs this year:
He says the best way to get this information is to check the back of your insurance card. There are often a couple of toll free 1 800 numbers provided there. You'll obviously want to get someone on the phone who can help provide answers to questions you may have about your plan and what's available to you.
Research has obviously proven that people who use gyms are healthier and in better physical shape -- customers who exercise regularly are generally less likely to suffer from costly medical ailments, including diabetes and heart disease. So, covering gym memberships pays off for insurance companies over time. This offers some incentive for people to stay active, and helps save insurance companies money in long term coverage.
Many major insurance companies offer discounts of up to 30 percent on monthly fees on select gyms. Employers often offer discounts on gym memberships, as well -- some offer $250 per year reimbursements. So check with your benefits department.
Weight -loss surgery
Medicare and Medicaid began covering weight-loss surgery five years ago. And most commercial insurance companies now cover it -- but don't expect your provider to cover the cost of a tummy tuck. We're not talking about someone looking to shed a few extra pounds with a surgery. That definitely won't be taken care of by your insurance company. People who qualify for this coverage have to meet strict physical criteria; you often have to be 100 pounds over your ideal weight or have a BMMI (Body Mass Index) of 35 or higher, and you'll likely need documentation from your physician indicating that conventional diet and exercise haven't worked for you in the past. So again, it's not for everyone, but it is available.
Breast reduction surgery
This is another case where you can't simply ask for breast reduction surgery strictly for cosmetic reasons. But, if you've got chronic back problems, chronic back pain that interferes with your life and is becoming a medical problem for you, your insurance will supplement the cost of the surgery. Your doctor will again have to provide documentation of your problems to the insurer.
For a long time, Lasik was considered an elective procedure. But now, insurance companies are covering vision correction surgeries. If you have a vision care component to your policy, it may cover part of laser vision-correction surgeries, such as Lasik. If your surgery is deemed medically necessary, your policy may cover the entire surgery. It's safe to say the insurance company wants to save itself money, so if it's paying for something up-front, it's going to save the company money in the long run.
Drugstore clinic visits
A lot of people think you have to pay out-of-pocket for these services. Most of the time, these visits are considered in-network by the insurer, which means you have to just have to pay a co-pay. At these drug store clinics, doctors are available to diagnose illnesses and offer prescriptions right on the spot. You can pop into a pharmacy and see one of the on-site doctors if you need antibiotics for some kind of infection, for example. You can also receive vaccinations there. The advantage here is you don't have to make an appointment with your doctor, which can take days to secure, then spend half the day sitting in the waiting room with a bunch of sick people.
24/7 health insurance company nurse info phone lines
A lot of insurance companies have toll-free numbers with nurses on the other end available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The number's usually on your insurance card. Many also have instant-messaging functions on their websites that enable you to e-mail directly with a doctor on-call. So if your toddler's sick and you're not sure how much Tylenol to give her, a 24/7 nurse line is a fantastic option. If they can't answer your questions, they'll direct you to someone who can.
Durable medical equipment, including breast pumps
If you break your leg, insurance will of course cover your hospital visit, but it can also help you get around after you leave. Under the "Durable Medical Equipment" section of your policy, you'll likely notice that crutches and wheelchairs are covered, as well as all or a portion of prosthetic limbs. Also, under this section, nursing moms can purchase a breast pump with a doctor's prescription for as much as 90 percent off, which could save you up to $250. Interestingly, the IRS announced last week that breast pumps are also now considered tax deductible -- something to remember, come April 15.
Next-generation birth control
Health insurance used to cover birth control pills and not much else. But, as birth control technology has evolved, insurance policies have changed to reflect it. Now, newer methods of birth control, including the contraceptive NuvaRing and the injection Depo-Provera, are often covered, at least in part, by your insurance.