To keep more money in your pocket, you need to shop around for the best coverage, help keep costs low to begin with, ensure adequate reserves and have a backup plan. Start reducing your health-care costs by planning ahead, watching the dollars and having a back-up plan. Here are a dozen ideas below.

Plan Ahead

1. Find out what’s covered in a medical policy. Check and compare deductibles and co-payments before purchasing a policy. Signing up for one that doesn’t include the drugs you’re taking or that won’t allow you to see your current doctor can leave you liable for a good portion of the bill. To compare insurance plans before you make a final decision, head to a Web site such as

2. Know how much you actually are liable for. An insurance broker can explain anything in your medical policy that is confusing and point out any restrictions that might cost you money later. Find an insurance broker through the National Association of Health Underwriters

3. Explore possible providers. Before selecting a hospital, explore state-sponsored Web sites to compare charges. Currently, at least 38 states either require or encourage hospitals to publicize information on specific fees for inpatient and outpatient procedures. And costs do vary widely.

4. Check the network. Choosing doctors and labs that are in your insurance company’s network keeps costs for office visits and services down. If you’re thinking of purchasing any discount insurance cards, double-check the validity in your area.

5. Do a pro/con list on plan types. Weigh the upside and downside of HMO, PPO and indemnity plans to determine which is the best option for you. With an HMO you have to stay within a network of doctors and providers. You always have to see your primary physician before you can see a specialist, and he or she has to give permission before you can make an appointment with that specialist. There are no claim forms to deal with, and co-payments generally are lower.

With a PPO, you have more freedom of choice and access. You don’t need a referral to a specialist, and you can go outside the network. The biggest disadvantages are the cost is more expensive if you go outside the PPO network, co-payments generally are higher and sometimes you have to meet a deductible before coverage kicks in.

With an indemnity plan you can go to any doctor you want, but the cost of that type of plan is usually higher than others.