6 fast ways to reduce your health insurance costs

David Bakke writes about money management topics including savings, insurance, and retirement on the blog, Money Crashers.

In 2014, major points of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, go into effect which means that virtually everyone will have the opportunity to buy health insurance coverage. On some levels, this is good news. For example, if you've been denied coverage for a preexisting condition you'll finally be able to get the insurance you need.

However, no one knows how health insurance rates will be affected - there is a possibility they will go up. This is particularly important because virtually everyone will be required to have health insurance coverage. So if your employer doesn't provide it, or you don't get health insurance through an employer, you'll have to get it on your own or pay a penalty.

The penalty is:

• $95 per adult (or 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater) in 2014.
• $395 per adult (or 2 percent of household income) in 2015.
• $695 per adult (or 2.5 percent of household income) in 2016.

Going forward, consider these six options for affordable healthcare:

health insurance costsHow to reduce your health insurance costs

1. Raise your deductible

If you're in the unenviable position of having to purchase your own health coverage (versus getting it through your employer), consider a plan with a high deductible. This will reduce the cost of your health insurance premium, but will also provide less complete coverage. However, since preventive care, such as checkups and vaccines, is generally provided free of cost (the insurance company can't charge a copay), these plans are not as scary as you might think.

2. Shop the competition

If you need to secure your own health insurance, get multiple quotes before you pick a carrier or plan. Consider how raising the deductible, and changing your copay and coinsurance factor affect the cost of coverage.

3. Take care of yourself

Gone are the days of running to the doctor for the smallest sneeze or sniffle. There are multiple remedies you can use at home or purchase from your local health food store. For example, I've found natural homeopathic remedies to be fantastic for curing spring allergies, clearing sinuses, and calming coughs. There are plenty of other natural ways to heal yourself and provide relief. However, always visit a doctor for a cold that lasts more than a few days, a high fever, or any other issue that doesn't promptly clear up.

4. Get rid of bad habits

If you smoke, you know you're already paying a high premium, but you may pay up to 25 percent more by 2014. Get a patch, join a self-help group, do whatever it takes to kick the habit. Otherwise, simply live a healthy lifestyle. This doesn't have to mean drastic changes all at once, but be sure to get in some physical activity most every day and add more fruits and vegetable to your diet. To really reduce medical expenses, get on a solid exercise plan and diet, and take your vitamins.

5. Ask for generics

When you need a prescription, let the doctor know you want the generic. They're much less expensive than name brand drugs and generally provide the same benefits. You can also ask if your physician has free samples, and don't be afraid to explain your situation if you have poor prescription coverage. I once did this and received an entire course of antibiotics for free.

6. Review coverage before seeking treatment

Know what your policy covers before you go in for treatment. Sometimes there may be less-costly alternatives available to you. Tell your doctor what your insurance covers and see if there's a way to reduce your out-of-pocket expense. Even if there's nothing to be done about it, at least you have a heads-up regarding the bill.

Being smart not only means saving money, it also means not taking chances. Don't delay a necessary trip to the doctor or emergency room because you're afraid of what it might cost. If you've already tried a home remedy to no avail - or worse, ignoring the problem - get yourself the medical treatment you need right away. Remember, the whole reason behind health insurance coverage is to take care of you - and there's no amount of money more important than that.