Ask the Doctor: The Cost of Medical Care

With soaring medical costs and uncertain health insurance coverage, many parents now face a dilemma: How do you make sure your child receives the best possible health care while keeping medicals costs down and avoiding financial difficulties?

It’s important to talk to your doctor about these concerns to ensure that you don’t try and save money by skipping vital care and medications that could seriously compromise your child’s health and cost you a lot more in the long run.

Bay Area Parent asked Ross DeHovitz, a pediatrician with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, some specific questions on this issue.

Q: Some medications are so expensive. Is it OK to talk to my doctor about cheaper alternatives for my children when they are sick?

A: You should always feel comfortable talking to your doctor about the costs of any treatment or medications that he or she recommends for your family. Your doctor can then help determine the most effective treatment option for your child, while keeping the cost down.

For example, your doctor may be able to recommend a generic prescription or over-the-counter medication as an alternative to a more expensive brand-name drug. Rest assured that all generic medications, just like brand-name drugs, must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are as safe and effective as their brand-name counterparts.

Check with your health insurance so you know what medications are covered under your particular plan and if your co-pay will be less if you opt for a generic medication.

Q: I’ve just lost my health insurance and my baby is due for some of her vaccinations. Can I skip them and wait till I have health insurance again?

A: It’s important not to skip or defer any of your baby’s vaccinations to protect her against dangerous and life-threatening diseases. Although we often think of diseases such as tetanus, polio and measles as a thing of the past, these serious illnesses are still very much out there.

To protect everybody effectively against an outbreak of such a disease, at least 90 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated. (Some people cannot get vaccinated due to health issues such as cancer and some don’t respond to the vaccine; so it’s important to get vaccinated unless your doctor recommends otherwise.) 


Don’t be tempted to defer any immunizations to a later date as there are good reasons behind the timing of the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) vaccination schedule that your doctor follows. The recommended vaccination schedule takes into account when a baby or child is most at risk for contracting certain diseases and at what age vaccines are most effective.

Ask your doctor or check with your county to find local community health clinics that provide immunizations and health care at no cost for uninsured patients.

Q: We have health insurance for our family, but no dental insurance; do I really need to take my kids for regular dental check-ups?

A: Remember that your child won’t be able to do well at school or enjoy playing with his or her friends if he or she is suffering from a toothache. Taking your child to the dentist regularly will help make sure your child’s teeth stay healthy and don’t develop cavities that require painful and expensive procedures such as fillings, crowns and root canals.

As part of a regular dental check-up, the dentist or hygienist also teaches your child to brush and floss their teeth correctly and develop life-long good hygiene habits for healthy, cavity-free teeth. Check with your county for local community dental clinics and programs for uninsured patients.

Q: My 6-year-old son has asthma and his doctor has prescribed regular medication. He seems healthy right now. Can I reduce the treatments to keep the medication costs down?

A: The best possible way to make sure your son stays healthy and keep your health care costs down is to carefully follow the care and medication routine prescribed by your doctor. In addition, regular check-ups will ensure that illnesses, such as coughs, do not go on too long and cause lung damage later in life. If your son’s asthma gets out of control, he’ll need more medication and may need to go to the emergency room, which is very frightening for your son and also costs a lot more than routine care.

Q: My 12-year-old daughter has been picked for the school soccer team and the school requires a signed physical form from her doctor. She’s healthy, so do I really need to take her to the doctor for a physical exam? I’m trying to keep our family’s medical expenses down.

A: Don’t be tempted to skip your daughter’s annual physical exam, as this is an important and regular opportunity for your doctor to make sure her vaccinations are up to date and to talk to your child about important health issues such as her diet, exercise and sleep. As your child gets older, this can also be an opportunity for your doctor to discuss difficult topics, such as the risks of alcohol and drug experimentation.

Remember that regular check-ups will both encourage your daughter to develop a trusting relationship with her doctor and help her develop healthy life-style habits that could lower your health care costs.

Ross E. DeHovitz, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Palo Alto Center. Advice is not intended to take the place of an exam or diagnosis by a physician.



Ask the Doctor
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Bay Area Parent
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