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Maximizing Your Health Care Dollars with Steve And Annette Economides – Episode 146

Despite all the assurances that the government has instituted a health care program that is going to save us all a ton of money, many of us are finding out just the opposite. Not only are health care costs skyrocketing (and doing so on a daily basis), many of us are finding ourselves left out in the cold as companies drop health insurance plans they can no longer afford.

What is the average family to do?

Today’s guests on Off the Grid Radio, Steve and Annette Economides, once known as America’s Cheapest Family but now known as America’s Money Smart Family, bring us tips, hints, and proven strategies for saving on health care costs… from maximizing your health insurance benefits to actions you can take to keep you and your family healthy that will help you avoid doctor visits altogether.

Off The Grid Radio
Ep 146
Release Date February 28, 2013

Bill:                  And good morning, everybody. It’s Bill Heid with another exciting episode of Off The Grid News—the radio version. I’ve got exciting guests today. I’ve got Steve and Annette Economides. I like just saying their name. I wish that was my name—Economides—it’d be easy for me to sort of brand myself. We’ve been talking about America’s Money Smart Family. Guys, thanks so much for being with me today.

Annette:           Thanks, Bill. We’re glad to be here.

Steve:               It’s great to be here, Bill.

Bill:                  Thanks for being America’s Money Smart Family and I think this is one of those periods of time in history—we’ve talked about this before on the show—where you’ve got to start watching every little dime that comes in and goes out. You’ve got to know your numbers. You’ve got to be a good steward—all that kind of language. And we want to talk a little bit about Obama Care. Is there anything else on your mind today before we jump in to sort of that nasty reality?

Annette:           Well, we have so much to talk about with saving money on medical expenses. I’m worried about us getting through it all. So we’re ready to go.

Bill:                  We probably won’t even have time. Well, let’s get going because Donald Trump… I won’t waste too much time but I’ll talk a little bit about just Obama Care and I wanted to read you something that I read that Trump said that I thought was kind of cute. He said, “We’re going to be gifted with a healthcare plan we are forced to purchase and fined if we don’t, which purportedly covers at least 10 million more people without adding a single new doctor but provides for 16,000 new IRS agents, written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn’t understand it, passed by a Congress that didn’t read it but exempted themselves from it, signed by a president who smokes with a funding administrated by a treasury chief who didn’t pay his taxes for which we’ll be taxed for four years before any benefits take effect by a government which is already bankrupt, has a bankrupt Social Security and Medicare plan, all to be overseen by a surgeon general who is obese and financed by a country that’s broke.” Here is what he says—forgive my language, folks—“What the hell could possibly go wrong with that?”

Steve:               Okay, well he about summed it up so I guess we’re done.

Bill:                  Here we are.

Annette:           That is an amazing quote.

Steve:               And Bill, that all resonates with us and the unfortunate thing is all those people didn’t do their homework so what it means is and what we’re going to talk about is how we can do our homework to protect us because obviously the government isn’t.

Annette:           Right. And one of the first things we want to talk about is knowing your insurance policy.

Steve:               Let me just back up because I want people to understand the seriousness and they probably do but bankruptcies—the second leading cause of bankruptcies are the result of medical bills—62% of bankruptcies are the result of unpaid medical bills. And it is crushing us. And we just had a year where we had over… probably $120,000 worth of medical bills for our daughter. She had knee surgery, got an infection, had to have four knee surgeries.

Annette:           In one year.

Steve:               We have gone through the wringer as far as medical bills but we came out okay because we knew our policy.

Annette:           Right.

Steve:               And that’s the first point—you have to know how to read your policy and know what your benefits are.

Annette:           Yeah, and let me share. Back—way back—when we adopted… Two of our five kids are adopted and they were very, very sick when we got them. One had severe asthma and I had to start learning all kinds of things. We’ll talk more about that in a little bit. But one of the things that I had to get them into was sensory integration therapy and I scanned our benefits book and couldn’t find it and I called the insurance company and I said, “Is this covered? Because I don’t see it anywhere” and she was like, “Oh yeah. See that little clause at the very end where it says, ‘other therapies’? Oh, it fits under there.” I said, “So you’re telling me if I didn’t ask I would just assume… I wouldn’t even know. I would just assume this wasn’t covered and pay it out of my pocket.”

Steve:               And what that also means is if someone denies it at the insurance company because it’s their opinion that it isn’t covered, work your way up the ladder because it’s sufficiently vague where you can probably win the argument if you persist.

Annette:           Okay, so basically know your deductible, know your co-pays, know your co-insurance amount, which means…

Steve:               Bill, do you know what co-insurance is?

Bill:                  No.

Steve:               This is where it gets confusing. You’ve got deductible, which is the amount you have to pay before your insurance really kicks in but they’ll adjust the price of something. So if you go to a doctor’s office and it’s $225 for the visit, the insurance has a contracted rate and it’s different for each insurance company, which blows my mind. I think they should just have one contracted rate. But so the insurance company says, “That $225 doctor visit is only going to cost you $80.” So that is the adjusted contracted rate. Your co-insurance is what you pay when they charge you that amount. So you pay that…

Annette:           So if you have an 80/20 policy you would pay 20% of the $80.

Steve:               After you reach your deductible.

Bill:                  Okay. All right.

Steve:               Before you reach your deductible you are paying 100% of that co-insurance amount.

Annette:           But not of the originally billed amount.

Steve:               Right. So in other words, the $225 is not what you pay. That’s the retail price. You pay the $80 until you reach your deductible. In our case our deductible is pretty high. We have a $5,000 deductible so we’re going to pay that for a while. After we reach our deductible, then we only pay 20% of the co-insurance amount.

Annette:           And I was just out with my sister, who is looking for a new OBGYN and we were interviewing a new doctor and she was telling him that she was paying on this bill from this old doctor and he asked how much she was paying and he said, “That’s ridiculous. You shouldn’t be paying that much money. We only bill like $80 for that” and she was paying on like a $300 pill. I said, “Jen, did you look at your EOB from your insurance?” She’s like, “No, I didn’t pay attention to that.”

Steve:               What’s an EOB?

Annette:           Explanation of benefits. Thank you, Steve. So basically, the insurance always sends you a statement, whether it’s through email or paper trail and they tell you what that adjusted amount is that you’re supposed to be paying. So this doctor’s office was taking advantage of my sister because there was an adjusted rate of $90 but then the doctor’s office decided to bill my sister for the difference, which they’re not allowed to do. And my sister was paying on the full amount instead of what she should have been paying on.

Steve:               So the bottom line is you’ve got to read your policy and if you don’t understand it you’ve got to call them, call your insurance agent, call a friend who knows it but you have got to know your policy because things get messed up, people take advantage or they just don’t know the rules.

Bill:                  So guys, what comes first—challenging the bill or…? I mean because they kind of go hand-in-hand. The insurance company looks at the bill and says, “We’re going to pay X%” or whatever with the co-pay, as you say but if that number is not right that gets to them, you have to kind of go backwards and go to the doctor’s office and say, “Hey, you can’t do this.”

Steve:               Well, there is… So it’s so convoluted. One of the things we do is we… Annette keeps an incredible date book where she records every visit we have, every appointment we have—and we just went through that to track our mileage for a year—but you’ve got to keep notes. And…

Annette:           Steve, let’s skip to… We’ve got an outline here, Bill and number seven—let’s go… Let’s segue right into seven because that would make sense and then we’ll go back in our notes. Okay. So let’s talk about resolving medical claims because this is exactly what you’re talking about, Bill. What we tell people is make sure that you literally have a notepad or a folder where you’re starting to keep track of everything. So make sure that when you call the insurance agency you write down the date, the time of day, the name of the person you talk to and if it’s a name like Mary say, “You know there is a good chance—this is a big company—that there are several Marys that work for this company. Can you give me the first initial of your last name?”

Steve:               Or ask for their employee ID number.

Annette:           So she’ll say, “Oh, I’m Mary L.” and you’ll be like, “Thank you.” And…

Steve:               Use that person as your point of contact if you can rather than having to go back and tell your story over and over again.

Annette:           But oftentimes the first person you talk to on the phone does not have the authority to make changes if there is a mess—if there is a big mess financially in what’s going on.

Steve:               So there was a time Annette had a kidney stone—the most painful thing… She said it’s worse than childbirth.

Annette:           It is.

Steve:               I believe her.

Annette:           It is.

Steve:               And seven years later the hospital came back to us because every… They have up to seven years in the state of Arizona to review their medical bills and they came back and said, “You know what? You didn’t pay us everything. You owe us $400.” I ended up working through the insurance company. We had our bills. We went through them and ended up having to work my way up to the chief financial officer of the hospital.

Annette:           And we actually figured out… Because it was a non-provider and Steve had to go to bat working—out-of-network provider—and he had to go to bat working with the insurance company to resolve all the medical bills, he figured out that at the end they actually got overpaid for their situation. But there are companies that will come into these hospitals and say, “Look, you give me all your outstanding bills or you let me go through your medical records and I’ll take a percentage of everything I make.” And so they’ll go in and just stir up all this stuff and people will be blindsided and they won’t know what hit them.

Steve:               Can you imagine a woman who loses a husband through a long illness and she’s maybe in her 60s or 70s and all of a sudden she starts getting bills five or six years later? She’s going to pay them, unfortunately and we need to help our aging parents and we need to help our neighbors who are going through this stuff because medical bills can cause incredible stress and can cost you untold amounts of money that you shouldn’t pay.

Annette:           There is a company out there called and they are… They will help people to negotiate medical bills if someone’s elderly or they’re completely overwhelmed—say they have an ongoing illness that they’re battling and they just can’t keep up with everything—Bill Advocates charges a percentage…

Steve:               Of what they reduce your bill from. So if the hospital says you owe them $5,000 and they get it down to $1,000 they’re going to charge you a percentage of what they saved you. And actually, that is a growth area if people want to start their own business and have an affinity towards understanding medical bills, that’s a way they can start their own business.

Bill:                  That is a growth business, guys. Just helping people and almost be a defender. It’s almost a biblical idea of sort of defending widows and orphans kind of thing where you really dig in and help somebody out. You could do it free for a while and then if you got good at it, man.

Annette:           Right. Okay, so honey…

Steve:               Let’s go back and talk about how you keep from getting medical bills because really the bottom line is staying healthy. And there are so many people who run to the doctor, especially when we were new parents and the kids started sniffling we’d run to the doctor and we’re going, “This is ridiculous. We’re paying $40-50 every time they get a sniffle.” You can’t afford to do that. So we had to become educated on staying healthy, keeping our kids healthy and just healthy habits.

Annette:           And we’re not… We’re obviously not talking about serious, serious situations here like pneumonia or—I don’t know—ongoing illnesses.

Steve:               But about 22% of the visits to hospital ERs are what the ER doctors would declare are unnecessary visits.

Annette:           So basically, it’s people with…

Steve:               Strep throat.

Annette:           The flu… Well, I don’t know about… Stitches are necessary but just some basic stuff… There is a…

Steve:               So you want to know…

Annette:           Yeah, there is a book out there called Prescription For Nutritional Healing and it talks about everything from the vitamins your body needs to the minerals your body needs to different herbal supplements that you can take to basic first aid. I was in a pediatrician’s office one time and this gal who looked like she was mentally handicapped had… Looked like she had chased a car or something and rolled in the street and she was sitting there with scratches all over her and I thought to myself “Really? The mother couldn’t even do some basic first aid on this child? She had to just bring her to the doctor’s office for them to just clean her wounds and bandage her?” So we’ve got to… And I think with Obama Care there is going to be more and more people realizing they can’t just run to the doctor for one sneeze or one sniffle. It’s not going to work.

Steve:               If you’re… I mean our kids learned a lot of first aid through Boy Scouts and that’s a great organization or you can take a CPR class, a basic first aid class. A lot of them are offered at local fire departments. But check it out. You’ve got to be prepared. And we just can’t rely on other people all the time to know what’s best for us.

Annette:           And it used to be if you had stitches the emergency room… If the doc… Most people were referred to the emergency room. Now there is urgent care centers all over the cities and those are places where you can go and the co-pays are much less and you can get stitches stitched up and we’ve had our share of stitches over here with five kids, for sure. Broken bones—I don’t know if urgent care can deal with broken bones. They might be able to. But have a network of doctors and make sure you’ve got doctors for different things. You need obviously your pediatrician and your GP but we have a bone doctor; we have… Well, we had a knee doctor for Abby and we have an OBGYN. Make sure you have a network of doctors that you can draw resources on.

Bill:                  And guys, can I just throw this part in because…? And I hope that you’ll concur. At least your general practitioner, you ought to get to know him. In other words, this person shouldn’t be distant in your tree of relationships. That person ought to be somebody that you know their cell phone number and if you can work into that relationship, that’s an awesome thing because you’re going to need it.

Steve:               Our GP is a guy I used to play racquetball with. He goes to our church. We know his wife. And the guy is so trustworthy and he tries to save us money and says, “This is where I go to get my MRIs” and that kind of thing.

Annette:           Absolutely, and Bill really, if your insurance allows you to have a physical once a year or once every two years go in and do it because like you’re saying, you want to keep that relationship going with that doctor so when an emergency does happen he’s there for you.

Steve:               And here’s another thing you want to do with your doctor. Now this is going to save some money but it’s a smart thing. Annette used to go shopping at the doctor’s office with our pediatrician. Whenever she would go to the doctor’s office she would bring a bag—a canvas bag—and she made friends with the nurses. She’d bring in cookies and pumpkin bread, which is another smart way to live. And she’d say, “What kind of samples do you have?” and they would load her up with child Tylenol…

Annette:           Cold medicine, Robitussin. They even had bars of soap that they gave me. Lotion. They loaded my bag every time I went in there.

Steve:               Now all this stuff is usually samples that are brought in by sales people of new medicines and medications—over the counter medications that they have—and oftentimes this one practice… Their stockroom was so full of it they were glad to get rid of it.

Bill:                  What a great idea. Yeah.

Steve:               Now when a doctor prescribes a non-over-the-counter but a prescription medication, ask them if they have any samples of that also.

Annette:           Right. Okay, so let’s move on in our outline and let’s talk about getting the most from your doctor visits. Interview your doctors. When I needed to find an OBGYN I basically got recommendations from friends and then I called the different practices and I said, “Would your doctor give me 10-15 minutes to just come in and ask him a bunch of questions and meet him?” before you choose… before I chose who I wanted to do. And I did that. I interviewed five different doctors and it was interesting because by the time I got done with that interview process I knew which doctor I wanted. It was pretty clear. I’ve done that with dentists as well to try to pick dentists. And…

Steve:               Some of the questions you asked with OBs were “What percentage of deliveries do you do that are caesarean?” because with the litigious society we work in a lot of the OBs instantly, with any difficult potential childbirth, they go, “Oh, we’re going to do a C-section” and Annette didn’t want that and we didn’t want that. It’s costly. It’s unnecessary surgery. And we ended up with a doctor who actually delivered our first child breech, which most doctors will not do anymore.

Annette:           Right. But he had been practicing for 25 or 30 years at the time. Get second opinions. I mean I can’t tell you how some of our kids have been misdiagnosed, especially with knee issues and we’re not shy anymore. We’re like, “Okay, if this doesn’t feel right we’re going to another doctor. We’re getting a second opinion. Even if we have to pay out of our pocket we’re going to do this.” And…

Steve:               There is an interesting book called Love, Medicine and Miracles by a guy named Bernie Siegel and he said, “You need to be a pain in the butt to your doctor.” That means go in with a list. Don’t take no for an answer. You’re the patient. You get to call the shots. The doctor is not God. And he said that the patients—he deals a lot with cancer patients—the patients who recovered most often were the ones who were the pain in the butt because they were taking an active role in their wellness rather than just going in and saying, “Doctor, tell me what I should do.”

Bill:                  Yeah, don’t you think, guys, most doctors would like that?

Annette:           Well, yeah.

Bill:                  As long as your demeanor is proper. In other words, you’re not trying to be a pain in the butt in the sense of you’re being a jerk but you’re being… You’re not being the ordinary patient because you’re persisting.

Annette:           Yeah, you’re being inquisitive. And with our first baby, my OBGYN—this is so funny because I was reading all kinds of books on childbirth, on baby care, on nursing—and every time I’d go in there I’d have a list of questions and it got to the point where if he knew I was coming he’d walk in the door and say, “Okay, what are your questions for me this month?”

Steve:               So it honors them. It says that you’re involved. You come in prepared. You go down your list. Nobody is going to turn that down and if they do, you need a different doctor.

Annette:           Right. But he got to the point where he thought I was hilarious.

Steve:               So there was a situation where Annette—this is a couple years ago—Annette’s dad, who is in his late 70s now was given a new thyroid medication and within two days he was loopy, dehydrated… We didn’t know what was going on with him. We took him to the doctor. He ends up in the hospital. His blood sugar level had spiked to over 700. That means his blood was like sludge.

Annette:           He should have been dead.

Steve:               And I was doing some research in the hospital because they had said, “Well, we need to do all these other tests, all these other tests” and I said, “The only thing that’s changed in the last month when his blood sugar was regular to the time that his blood sugar changed was this thyroid medication.” I started reading on websites—medical websites—and I don’t understand everything but I got enough information to understand that there had been studies done on this medicine that in men over the age of 70 it causes severe reactions. And we ended up with a hospital doctor who didn’t believe us, wanted to run all kinds of tests and this is another point—when you do your research and you’re confident in your information you can fire your doctor.

Annette:           Well, let… That’s… Yeah.

Steve:               And this is what we did in the hospital because the hospital assigns a doctor to your case that is not necessarily your doctor.

Annette:           So basically… Let’s talk for a minute about hospital stays because that is important. That’s one of the things we wanted to talk about. Like Steve said, we’ve fired hospital doctors before and I think hospitals make a lot of their money just running test after test after test. Some of them don’t run any. Some of them run a ridiculous amount. So…

Steve:               And a lot of times they don’t necessarily look at your history.

Annette:           Right. So we always… When someone is in the hospital—my parents have their share of health issues—we… All the kids take turns staying with them. We keep a notebook. Whenever somebody comes into the room we ask them “What are you doing?” and we write down exactly what they’re doing in the notebook—what the medication they’re giving them, how… what the dosage is. And they know we’re watching them.

Steve:               It scares the crud out of the hospital staff but we don’t care really about that because we want the best care for our family.

Annette:           Right. And make sure if you cannot stay at the hospital, if there is nobody to do that, that you are there when the doctors make their rounds. Out here in Arizona most of the doctors start showing up anywhere from 5:30 in the morning until about 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning so that is the most critical time to be at the hospital if you had to pick a time to be there because you want to be able to interact with all the different doctors they’re calling in to work on your case. Ask lots of questions. Keep track of everything in a notebook. Overwhelming, Bill?

Bill:                  That’s a lot but I think it’s just good advice and I can tell you from my own experience that’s true. You need to be there when the doctor is there and they are creatures of the morning, for the most part. So you’re missing out if you don’t have a chance to talk to them.

Steve:               Talk about the patients. In Annette’s dad’s case, he was… Because his blood sugar was so high he was not coherent and so a doctor would come in and talk to him—he’s the patient—and tell him all the things they’re going to do and he’d just agree with them. He had a point he had so many kidney stones that there was a test they wanted to do that was going to affect his kidneys and Annette said, “Wait a second. That’s a dye that’s going to be injected that affects his kidneys. He’s had kidney problems. You don’t know this but we can’t do that.”

Annette:           “You can run the test but no dye—absolutely no dye.” And they looked at me like, “How do you know that?” and it’s because we got on the internet and started researching it. So… There was something else I was going to say…

Bill:                  Well, and I think, guys, a lot of doctors—just in their defense—the problem is they have to come on with a sense of authority so that’s what you get when you go to the doctor. The nurses, the doctors—they’re all sort of… It’s important for them to have that sense of confidence when they talk to you. However, the fields are so wide anymore that you can’t be 100% in all the different fields so it really puts them at a risk. On the one hand you’ve got a confident guy saying, “This is the way it is” and on another hand he doesn’t have time to do research other than he hears a medical… a drug salesman come every once in a while and he hears a pitch and that’s about all he gets. If he’s got a family he goes home to his family and gets back up in the morning and repeats that over and over and over. It’s incumbent upon you to help him even if he doesn’t like it.

Annette:           Right.

Steve:               Right. And there was the time that we ended up firing the hospitalist doctor—one of the nurses came in and said, “You have a right to do that,” kind of like she was… She couldn’t say it but she’s saying, “You did the right thing. That was smart.”

Annette:           Yeah, because she wanted to run some tests that I didn’t agree with and I said, “No, we’re not doing those.”

Steve:               Okay, let’s… You want to jump to prescription drugs?

Annette:           Sure.

Steve:               55% of Americans are taking prescription drugs, which just blows my mind because we avoid it like the plague.

Annette:           But even we have our issues. Like Steve has worked everything he can from a natural perspective to deal with cholesterol and he’s been working with our GP and the GP said, “You know what, Steve? This could be hereditary” and sure enough, his family does have a history of high cholesterol.

Steve:               I lost weight. I am exercising more and it didn’t affect it one bit.

Annette:           Right. So he’s on like the smallest dosage possible, you know? And I’ve battled with blood pressure so… And of course, that…

Steve:               Can you believe that, Bill? She’s so calm and laid back.

Bill:                  Maybe Steve, it’s something you’re doing to Annette. I’m not sure. I’m not sure about that. I’m just… But guys, I’ve got the same thing. I mean I was active as a young man. Let’s say I played too many sports when I was young. Now I’m 55. I can barely walk. I don’t want to take Vicodin all day long so I take Celebrex. It actually works but it’s $250 a month. What in the world do I do?

Steve:               Okay, so we’re going to talk about that, Bill. Let’s take you on the couch and we’re going to talk about your…

Bill:                  Set me down.

Annette:           Wait. Wait. Let me just start by saying we’re not talking about antibiotics here. Antibiotics are their own thing. What we’re going to talk about here is ongoing prescriptions that people need to take for things like heart meds or cholesterol or whatever.

Steve:               Because the lowest level of defense there is looking at discount drug programs and there are lots of them out there. I would just go online and say, “Show me some discount drug cards” and check and see if you can find a 20, 30, 40, 50% discount. The second step is to shop around. Check every pharmacy and realize that Costco and Sam’s Club—you do not have to be members to go to their pharmacy and a lot of times they will have the lowest prices.

Annette:           But the other thing about Sam’s Club and Costco is we have a grocery store just right up the street from us and Sam’s Club and Costco are a little bit further away and this drug store…

Steve:               This is a Kroger.

Annette:           The pharmacy inside our Fry’s—which is Kroger—will match Sam’s Club and Costco. So I don’t have to drive the extra miles to go there. I can just match there.

Steve:               So call around, get the prices and then go in and see if they’ll price match.

Annette:           Generics are another way. A lot of the grocery store pharmacies will have generics at just a fraction of the cost rather than taking… And I know not every medication has a generic but especially like cholesterol and blood pressure meds—there are a lot of them out there that are on that generic list. I pay…

Steve:               You ask your doctor, when he’s prescribing a new medication, “Is there a generic or an equivalent?” In my case, when they were prescribing the…

Annette:           Simvastatin?

Steve:               The… Yeah, what is it? I lost my train of thought. The cholesterol medicine. He said, “Well, you could take this one that’s really expensive but it’s really good or this one here but it may cause some muscle pain.” So we did it for a month, checked it out. It didn’t cause any pain so we stayed on that. So we look for options. Now if you’re dealing with a very expensive medication and it is causing financial hardship or it’s just… you’re going, “Man, there’s got to be a better way,” most drug manufacturers have what are called “patient assistance programs.” And what you do is you go to the drug manufacturer’s website and look for that information or call their 800 number and there will be a form to fill out. They’ll ask for some information and they will sell you the medication at a very reduced price. So it’s another option for families that are struggling with the medications.

Annette:           Yeah, and my blood pressure meds are on the generic list and I’m only paying $10 every three months.

Steve:               So if you have a pill that can be split your doctor can prescribe a double dosage and then you split it. That can save you money. Other doctors are prescribing three months worth of pills and you…

Annette:           You pay for it one time.

Steve:               …then pay for it once. You only pay one co-pay on it. That can save money. So there are lots of ways to play the prescription game and just ask your doctor or do your research but get saving.

Annette:           Now as far as antibiotics—I want to jump on it—there are times when you really do have to take them. We were on a vacation in Texas and our son got really, really sick. It ended up being pneumonia and Steve had to take him to a practice there that we were unfamiliar with but the person we were staying with knew about the practice. And he called me up from the pharmacy. Takes John to the doctor, then takes him to the pharmacy, calls me up and says, “The doctor’s office prescribed an antibiotic that’s $150.” And we knew it was chest stuff. I said, “No, call the doctor’s office back and say, ‘Look, I don’t want the newest, latest, greatest thing that some company is selling the doctor’s office. Give me erythromycin.’” I knew about erythromycin. It’s specifically for chest and lung stuff and I knew it was a hearty antibiotic for that. So Steve called back the doctor’s office and says, “We can’t do this. How about erythromycin? Can you prescribe erythromycin?” and they’re like, “Oh”—it’s an old standby—“Oh sure.” $15.

Steve:               We got an email after our first book came out—America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right On the Money—and we have a chapter in there on medical and it covers most of the stuff we’re talking about here. And it was from a doctor of pharmacy and he said, “I agree 100% with your chapter, down to washing hands,” which is one of the preventative things we’re going to talk about and he said, “We are generating a lot of superbugs because of the overuse of antibiotics” and he said, “Even in your own household, if you end up with too many antibiotics it will actually immunize people or create that problem of being”—what do you want to call it—“resistant to… creating resistant bacteria just by you breathing on your family members when you’re taking the medication.” So he said, “We need to reduce the amount of antibiotics we take and we need to be careful about which ones we take.”

Annette:           Right. And just a couple more things on prescriptions that I wanted to throw in there. Don’t stress about expiration dates. We have a friend who is a missionary doctor on the island of Papua New Guinea and he said if it’s not a gel—if it’s not a liquid—it’s a tablet, expiration dates really are not important, even if it’s like a year or two. Maybe if it’s ten years old you’re going to lose some potency.

Steve:               Our government actually did a study on it with our military people and they have calculated the amount of decrease in potency to be less than 10% per year on hard pills. So just be careful. Be wise. Don’t be foolish. Don’t take something that’s 20 years old. But keep your medications in a dark area. We keep ours in the refrigerator.

Annette:           Or the cabinet if there’s a cabinet.

Steve:               Yeah. You don’t want to keep it in a bathroom. But don’t stress over that and that will save you some money.

Annette:           Yeah, like Abby—like Steve said earlier—had four knee surgeries this year and she was prescribed pain meds with her first knee surgery. Well, the doctor prescribed such a large quantity that every knee surgery after that the doctor would say, “Does she need pain meds?” and I’m like, “No, we have plenty still at home.” So we never fulfilled the prescription for pain meds because we kept using the ones from the first surgery and she doesn’t like them and tries to get off of them as quickly as possible. So you can use what you have at home and not go get the prescriptions that the doctor says to get.

Bill:                  How long does stuff last really? I mean let’s say… Is it a year? Is it…?

Steve:               The hard pills… According to the survey—and I don’t have the information in front of me from the book but we put it in our medical chapter—it was like 8-10 years on the hard pressed pills. Gels and liquids are different. They deteriorate faster. So do your research. The information is out there. But we need to be smart.

Annette:           Right. Also, can we…? I know this isn’t exactly what we’ve all been talking about but let’s talk about eyeglasses because we just bought some eyeglasses. And a lot… Some people have eyeglass benefits; some people don’t. And like Steve… What Steve did is he had lenses that were not the right prescription any longer so… but the frames were in fine shape. So we did research and we found… Actually, we ended up at Sam’s Club and they just replaced the lenses and it saved a whole bunch of money.

Steve:               They charged me, I think, $5 for bringing in my own frames but cost savings are everywhere. We used to buy… In the ‘80s we used to buy the plastic frames, you know? And those things would dry out and break after two or three years. Metal frames last a lot longer. I know people are going to the rimless frames and things like that. Just be careful when you buy and you don’t have to buy the Christian Dior… Although there is one person on our website who sent in a tip and said what they do is they go on EBay and they look for lots of frames, like 10 or 12 pairs of frames and they can get them for like $15 or $20 for designer frames that are just overstocks. They buy a bunch of them, bring them to their eyeglass place, pick one that they want to use and they’ve got their frames for $15. They turn around and sell the rest back on EBay.

Bill:                  Well guys, and how about just reading glasses? I’ll tell you a short story from my limited experience. I go to Shanghai on business and I’m walking around a corner in some alley and a guy says, “Do you want to buy some glasses?” and I said, “Ah sure, what the heck?” And he’s got all the same stuff that my eye doctor has and like he’s in a little place outside. And so “Tell me how this looks. Tell me how this looks. Is this bigger?” And he didn’t have Chinese symbols. He had little symbols that I could read. But—letters that I could read—and so I spent 15 minutes in an alley in Shanghai. He said, “Come back.” I came back in 20 minutes. He had my glasses. They’re the best pair of reading glasses I’ve ever had. I went to a doctor. I… My $300 reading glasses that I have sit on the shelf. I use these $20 glasses for reading because they’re better glasses. And I’m sorry. I wish I had better things to say but it’s just… You know what it is. Whatever you like to do the most is what it is. And so I… When I reach for glasses I reach for the best pair of glasses I have, which I got in Shanghai in an alley for $20. So there’s got to be a lesson there too.

Steve:               You don’t have to travel to Shanghai to find those kinds of deals.

Bill:                  Well, I mean you could just go… For reading glasses, if an eye doctor…

Steve:               At the dollar store.

Bill:                  …wants to sell you a $300 pair is the bottom line and he may have some advantages to that but you have to look at the cost benefit analysis and say, “I’d rather spend $4 for a pair of glasses to read and then keep the $296.”

Steve:               There you go.

Annette:           Okay, and let me share a couple other things about dentists. Since we’re talking about eyeglasses, let’s segue into dentists here for a minute. Dentists like you to come in every… twice a year for a cleaning and we’ve not had the privilege of having dental benefits because we’re self-employed. And so what we’ve done is we’ve tried to do a cleaning once a year or once even every two years. And what you do is they want you to have x-rays once a year so this was actually, I think, a tip one of our website readers to sent in and it was basically go to the dentist, pay for the x-rays, pay for the oral exam, pay for the cleaning and then go back 11 months later—not 12—11 and you won’t have to pay for x-rays again and you can get another cleaning.

Bill:                  Wow. What a great idea.

Annette:           And another oral exam and then it’s like… because they really don’t need the x-rays.

Steve:               So you pay for the x-rays once every two years.

Annette:           Exactly. The other thing is Steve is a teeth-grinder and of course you can pay for them to make you this mouth guard for like $300 or more. And so Steve, tell them what you did.

Steve:               I did that once and that’s when I was fully employed and had a good job and spent the money. Then I got a crown put on and the mouth guard didn’t fit anymore and went to another dentist and he said, “Oh, just go buy one of those football mouth guards and cut it down.” I paid $2. I cut it with an X-Acto knife and then I sanded it down with my Dremel tool and I’ve got a custom mouth guard that cost me $2. And you dip it in water, you bite on it and it fits perfectly. And so that tip is on our website too at There are just so many ways to save.

Another great way to save more—we’re actually researching this right now—are dental plans. They are not insurance. They’re discount dental programs. And we talked to our dentist who is the head of the Arizona Dental Association. He said, “But when you’re doing that… I’m not going to argue with you. It’s a good way to save. I don’t take them but tell people that when they sign up for a dental plan to call the dentist and find out how long the dentist has been practicing. Longer is better. Then find out how long they have been taking the dental plans. Shorter is better.” You don’t want someone who lives on the dental plan to… That tells you that they aren’t keeping their patients. But if somebody is doing it for a short period of time, just to build up their practice, to add some new patients, that’s a good thing.

And the dental plans basically will cost you about $100-200 per year for a family and they’ll discount office visits, like a cleaning and annual exam will cost you about $30 instead of $100 and a crown will cost you about $600 instead of $1,200. So if you need a lot of dental work that is a good way to save money. We have links to on our website. So do your research though. Lots of doctors on it. And find one in your area, interview the dentist and see if it’s the fit for your family.

Annette:           Right. Are you okay if we move to another area here, Bill?

Bill:                  Yeah, where on your website is the dental plan thing? I’m just looking. I’m on your site right now. I’m looking through it because I’m trying…

Steve:               It’s under… Oh gosh. What’s the term? Frugal friends? I think it’s under frugal friends. But just… If they just type in “dental plans…”

Bill:                  All right. You guys keep talking. I was just looking around and I’m already trying to find… While we’re talking I’m already on this prescription drug thing… I mean that’s how important that is to me so…

Annette:           Yep. Yeah, and we’re in the midst of redesigning our website right now so it’s going to be in transition here over the next couple of weeks but yeah, it’s got all that stuff on it. Let’s talk about medical equipment for a minute because…

Steve:               Oh, this is a great way to save money.

Annette:           Because Steve… Our daughters have inherited their knees from Steve. Steve blew out his right knee in college doing sports and our oldest daughter blew out her right knee playing volleyball and now our youngest daughter blew out her right knee doing volleyball and weightlifting.

Steve:               That’s okay. They’re all right now.

Annette:           Oh gosh. So like Abby’s had four surgeries this last year and we switched doctors halfway—at the halfway point—because we just were not happy with that first doctor and when we get to the second doctor and it’s time for her fourth surgery, which was her ACL replacement for the second time, I get a phone call from their medical… the office’s medical equipment person and he’s like, “Well, we need to get her fitted for the brace. When can we do that?” I’m like, “We already have a brace.”

Steve:               The post-op brace, which…

Annette:           I mean and even though our insurance would have covered this 100% at this point I’m thinking of waste. I’m thinking about just dollar waste and we have a brace. It’s hardly used. I’m like, “No thank you. We already have a brace. We’ll…” What’s the word, when you…?

Steve:               We’ll disinfect it.

Annette:           Disinfect it. We’ll disinfect it and we’ll bring it to the hospital and we’ll use that brace.

Steve:               To save $700.

Annette:           Yeah, it’s an expensive brace. And he’s like, “Well, do you want the ice machine?” and I’m like, “No, we don’t need the ice machine.”

Steve:               They have a machine that circulates cold water around your knee. You’ve got to put the pad on and it’s a nice little thing but those are like $1,200.

Annette:           And I’m just like, “You know what? We’ve had three surgeries so far and we haven’t had an ice machine and we’ve just used bags of ice and I’m home nursing her and it’s worked out fine.”

Steve:               But let’s talk about where you can get medical equipment for discounted prices. So let’s say you sprain your ankle, break an ankle and the doctor says, “I need to put you in a walking boot.” Now you can let the doctor prescribe it and that’ll cost you about $400-500 or you can go down to your local thrift store. We see them there all the time.

Annette:           Oh my gosh. Yep—at Goodwill, Savers—yeah, they’re there.

Steve:               Crutches, walking boots, port-a-potties for the bathroom, little chairs…

Annette:           Walkers.

Steve:               Yep. All that stuff you’ll find at thrift stores for pennies on the dollar.

Bill:                  Because people just go through them, they use them for a while and then it’s time… You heal up and what do you do with them?

Steve:               Exactly. And they get rid of them.

Annette:           Or like if you have an elderly person. Say you have a parent coming to stay with you or ending up needing to come to live with you and you need a chair for the shower or you need a walker, sometimes senior centers will rent those things out like with no limit. For example, you go pay $5, you check out a wheelchair, you use it for as long as you need it and then you bring it back. And we’ve got several senior centers around the valley that will do this and it’s a wonderful service and the reason they can do it is because when people pass away the families donate the equipment to these places.

Steve:               Now Abby needed a knee brace to protect her before she had surgery and we got her an athletic knee brace and we went to a couple of different places where they told us what kind we should buy and so the doctor told us and then we went to a second source. So we knew what we were looking for. We checked on Craig’s List. We checked on EBay and they’re all over the place. But I was a little bit afraid about buying somebody else’s knee brace because I thought they had to be custom fitted.

So I ended up calling the manufacturer of a particular brand and they gave me the name of a sales rep in our area who ended up selling us one at a steep discount and when he finally fitted Abby for it… The fitting was “Oh, let’s adjust this one pad here. We’ll un-Velcro it and move it up. There, you’re fitted now.” My point is if you have someone who either is a physical therapist or knows how to fit a knee brace, buy a used one. Instead of spending $1,200 you’ll spend $200-300 and there are hundreds if not thousands of them available on EBay and Craig’s List. Make sure they’re clean. Be careful. Do your research but there is no point in spending money you don’t have on something that you can buy less expensively.

Annette:           Right. And what we’d love to finish up with today, if we could—and it’s in our book America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right On the Money—is ten ways to keep your body healthy. And most of this stuff, Bill, is common sense. People already know it but just as a reminder I’d like to close… We’d like to close with talking about it.

Steve:               And some of them are kind of funny so we’ll just run through this list.

Annette:           The first one is to drink water. My parents’ generation—they hate drinking water. They live on coffee. It cannot be good for your blood. So the younger generation is more open to that. They’ve got flavored waters out there. Just make sure you are drinking water every day. Dehydration is just so harmful to our bodies.

Steve:               And energy drinks don’t count. The cases of cavities has increased incredibly since energy drinks have come on the market. Second thing—wash your hands. This is a tip we used with our kids. Whenever we came home from church or whenever we’re out in public, wash your hands all the time. It cuts down the germs. Carry Purell with you. There are a lot of public places now that have the dispensers with Purell or they have the Handi-wipes at the grocery store.

Annette:           For the carts.

Steve:               When we wipe our carts down we keep that Handi-wipe and we go back out and we wipe our steering wheel down in our car.

Annette:           My mom keeps a Ziploc bag with towels soaked in alcohol and she is getting elderly now and so I’ve been taking her out once a week to run her errands and she… We stop at a restaurant for lunch and she wipes down the table of the restaurant. Her towels turn black and I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh.” So the tables are not being washed down well and you just need to be careful of this stuff. Yeah, like Steve said when our kids were little if we were out at a public outing, the minute we walked in the door we just lined up at the sinks and washed hands. Okay, so get outside. Get some… Number three—get outside and get some sunlight.

Steve:               10-15 minutes of sunlight a day gets you vitamin D. That’s what you need.

Annette:           And so many people just live inside of four walls anymore. They don’t get sunshine.

Steve:               Number four—exercise. You don’t have to have a gym membership. I used to have one. I saved $30 a month by going walking with my wife. We have a park nearby. We walk around the high school athletic track. Find a free place to work out. But get your exercise, get out and walk—it’s good for you.

Annette:           Number five—disinfect your doorknobs, light switches, phones. You would be surprised. This is one of our kids’ favorite chores when they were little. They’d go around the house with a rag and they’d wipe everything down and it was amazing how much healthier we stayed and how many less colds and flu we had in our house.

Bill:                  Give us some ideas of other things to wipe down. What all are we wiping down?

Steve:               The phone.

Annette:           The doorknobs, light switches, phones…

Bill:                  How about your keypad? How about keypad…? Yeah, keypads.

Annette:           Absolutely. Mouses and keypads—yep. You can take a Q-Tip with alcohol and just wipe down each of the keys. Oh yeah.

Bill:                  So let’s go… We’ve got a couple minutes here but so if you’re sick and you’re… Like I’m going to stay home. I can’t get into work but I’m sick and I’m sneezing, I’m coughing, I’m wiping my eyes and doing all that stuff and then I’m typing things in, then I go back and re-inoculate myself with those… Now granted I probably have a little immunity from it but that idea of just keep getting yourself… inoculating yourself again with the virus is dangerous.

Steve:               That’s a good point. What you want to do… There are three things you want to do. Number one—you don’t want to sneeze on your hands. You want to sneeze into your elbow. Sneeze and cough into your elbow. That way you don’t spread the germs on your hands. Number two—disinfect your toothbrush.

Annette:           Oh yeah—your hairbrush too.

Steve:               But your toothbrush—soak it in either rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. Number three—if you carry a water bottle, which we do—we use reusable water bottles—clean that water bottle once a week with bleach. Make sure you clean the threads on it.

Annette:           Right. Scrub around the top of it.

Steve:               I use a bottlebrush on mine and it… You’ve got to do it. Otherwise you’re going to end up with… You won’t want to…

Annette:           Re-infecting yourself.

Steve:               Take a tissue and clean the threads on your water bottle and take a look at what you get off it. It’s going to gross you out. Okay, next thing is learn about herbs and naturopathic type remedies. Get a book—Prescription For Nutritional Healing—is an excellent place to start but educate yourself.

Annette:           Right. I mean we have Echinacea, pao d’arco, cat’s claw, grapeseed—in the house—colloidal silver. All those things help us stay healthy. This next one is kind of funny. It’s KYBO, we call it—keep your bowels open.

Steve:               Eat bran.

Annette:           And basically, people need to be… How do I…?

Steve:               Regular.

Annette:           They need to be regular. They need to be going every…

Bill:                  The R word.

Annette:           They need to be going every day, okay? Let’s put it that way. And we’re not just talking… You know what I mean.

Bill:                  Yeah. Yeah, we do.

Annette:           Two prunes a day—two prunes a day is all you need to take to keep yourself…

Steve:               That’s what Annette’s grandfather swore by and he lived to be 96 years old.

Annette:           Yeah. But you’d be surprised how many people they’re running so busy they are not regular.

Steve:               Avoid antibiotics like the plague. Another one is learn, learn, learn. I found a solution for a back problem on YouTube that doctors didn’t diagnose for me. There are incredible resources on YouTube for medical issues, whether you wanted to learn how to stretch better, drink better. Just get out there and do your research.

Annette:           And build a library—a medical library. Everybody should have a basic medical book. The American Medical Association has a book on where you work through it and it’s got like a little chart. If you’ve got a fever, go here. Do you have…? Are you throwing up? Go here. You know? And it helps you to diagnose, to figure out how serious something you’re dealing with. So everybody should have a basic medical guide in their house.

Bill:                  What’s that one called again, Annette?

Annette:           Oh, what is it called? The American Medical Association.

Steve:               We’ve got that on our website. If you go under our book reviews into healthy living we’ve got a whole bunch of books we’ve reviewed there.

Bill:                  Fantastic.

Steve:               So that’s it. Oh, the last thing—I’ve got to tell you—the last thing is supported by the American Cancer Society. They advocate humor therapy. In other words, we need to laugh.

Bill:                  Laugh every once in a while.

Steve:               Laughter is like not only good medicine but it’s like a healthy workout for your body. So watch some funny movies. Tell jokes. We laugh so much around our dinner table by just telling jokes, telling stories, reviewing the day. Laughter is one of the best things you can do for your body and help you be healthy.

Annette:           Some of the older TV shows are a riot, like I Love Lucy and My Three Sons and Andy Griffith with Barney Fife. Oh my gosh. So if you’re battling an illness get some old TV show episodes and watch them because the endorphins that are released into your body as you laugh will bring healing.

Bill:                  They will. Norman Cousins wrote that book Anatomy of an Illness years ago and I think a lot of people just thought he was crazy because he is a little crazy but you guys just hit it. I mean it really… How you feel about something—what’s your emotional content—affects the chemistry of your body. And everybody needs to get that straight. That’s not a theory anymore.

Steve:               Actually Bill, I researched that and doctors… There are two doctors at Loma Linda University who took Norman Cousins’ theory and they’ve been researching it for 30 years and they said non-laughter doesn’t hurt your body but laughter definitely brings out positive effects not only in your respiration, strengthening different muscles but it helps your body.

Bill:                  Yeah, he called it sort of mental jogging or inner jogging. I can’t remember the quote exactly but that was his idea of just doing these… Brain Brawdy—my friend Brian—would call them mind-ups. So we’ve got to do our exercises, both externally and internally as well. So guys, this was really, really good stuff. I wanted to tell you—as we… Just… So if somebody comes in late on this and just listening to what we’ve gone through, we’re trying to prepare people for what we think are going to be hard times economically with respect to the medical situation in this country and I wanted to share this with you guys.

I read a report or a study and the numbers really kind of made me smile because apparently 53% of Americans, when polled—I think this was a Kaiser family poll—53% of the people said that they didn’t understand any of what Obama Care was all about and 47% said that they understood it completely. So this is really funny because years ago I saw a… something on… I don’t know if it was Huffington Post or something but they had 37% of Americans couldn’t identify America on a map.

Annette:           Oh my gosh.

Bill:                  So I would say the people that think that they know it probably don’t know what’s coming. I think they have some vague idea of what’s coming down the pike but man, doctors—another study for you—40% of the doctors, when surveyed recently, are thinking about getting out. Now that should scare you because it’s going to limit your access. You might have on one hand more access and you say, “Well, I’ve got health insurance now” but where are you going to go with your health insurance—to a doctor that used to be there or he closed his practice because he doesn’t want any new problems? He’s created a concierge sort of… A lot of them are going to go to their own little systems and you’re not going to be able to find a doctor.

Annette:           Right. It’s definitely going to be tougher. So the smarter we are about how to stretch our medical dollars, the better.

Bill:                  Totally agree. Anything else, guys? Your site…

Steve:               Come visit our website. It’s We are redesigning it to make it even better but right now we’ve got thousands of book reviews. We’ve got thousands of tips there, articles from… that we’ve written and information from other experts.

Annette:           And we’ve got three books out right now. We’ve got America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right On The Money, which is a general household finance book—covers… It’s got a medical chapter but it covers every area of household finances. We have our second book is Cut Your Grocery Bill In Half With America’s Cheapest Family and that’s the fastest way people can start getting themselves turned around financially and it’s not all about coupons. There is one 1 out of 20 chapters on coupons. So you can easily save half without coupons. And the third book is The Money Smart Family System: Teaching Financial Independence To Children Of Every Age because 60% of parents right now are supporting their adult children and it is a huge issue and there is a lot of peer pressure not only on the kids but on the parents today.

Bill:                  Your kids aren’t going to learn this in school—unless you’re homeschooling and you’ve got a copy of your book. And that’s a great idea for homeschooling families or Christian schools or whatever is try to get this Money Smart Family System and you owe your kids something. You don’t owe your kid a bunch of… your kids a bunch of garbage and a bunch of “things.” But you owe them a paradigm for living and I think that’s what you guys bring to the table. That’s what I love about talking to you. You practice this stuff. It’s not theoretical. And man, it’s just always fun to talk to you.

Annette:           Well great. Thanks for having us, Bill.

Bill:                  Thanks so much. You guys take care.

Annette:           Okay. We’ll talk to you later.

Bill:                  All right. God bless. And we’d like to thank our listeners as well. We know your time is important and until next time, thanks for listening.

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