Before my COBRA (healthcare for departed employees) ran out, I decided to get a physical exam. It's been three years and it was about time. Many insurance companies offer one free physical every year. Give your insurance company a call to find out if yours is one of them. That's a $200-$500 “savings” every year if you take advantage of the perk. Depending on your insurance coverage, you will either typically pay a co-pay ($25 in my case), or a co-insurance (generally 20% of the overall bill).
Beyond the co-pay or co-insurance, sometimes there's something called a “draw fee” as well. The word “draw” in this term refers to the drawing of blood, which is then sent off to a lab to get a multitude of tests done. My draw fee, to my surprise was $24 dollars. Hence, what I thought was initially “free” turned into a $49 dollar physical ($25 co-pay + $24 draw fee). Depending on my blood work, I may have to come back for more, which means another $25 in co-pay.
A $25 co-pay isn't particularly cheap. I've had as low as a $5 co-pay before until I decided to change my plan to be more for “disaster prevention.” You want a low co-pay if you are chronically sick. In 10 years, I've seen the doctor perhaps seven times, including physicals. Hence, it makes sense for me to pay a higher co-pay in return for a lower monthly premium. I could take it a step further and do co-insurance, but I elected not to.
THE RECOMMENDED FREQUENCY OF PHYSICAL EXAMS
I asked my doctor how often one should get a physical and here's his professional opinion after 30 years of practice.
If you are under 35: Once every two to three years.
If you are 35-49: Once every two years.
If you are 50 and older: Once a year.
All Ages: Whenever you notice a prolonged period of physical displeasure.
As you can tell, the frequency of getting your physical goes up the older you are. It makes sense given most of us get unhealthier with age due to more weight, less exercise, compounded unhealthy habits, build up in cholesterol, etc. I'm getting a physical once every two years to be on the safer side.
DO YOUR RESEARCH AND TAKE PRECAUTION
Of course it's not healthy to be overly paranoid about our health to the point where we call the doctor every time we get a hangnail. What is important is understanding our family's health history and be mindful of the symptoms which could lead up to an attack or a disease. Everyone should figure out all their parents' and grandparents' ailments. Write them down, and ask the doctor what one should look out for.
One of my fears is that some disease could occur between physical examinations and debilitate or kill me before I see the doctor. The doctor said not to worry, as there are long intervals for diseases to occur, and as soon as I feel abnormal discomfort, to come by earlier to get checked out anyway.
Take colon cancer as an example. My doctor recommends everybody 50 and over get a colonoscopy (ouch) every 5 years.
“Five years is a huge gap Doc!” I responded.
My doctor explained that cysts take 5+ years to grow to become dangerous (cases may vary of course). With each colonoscopy, the doctor removes all perceived cysts/polyps, and one has a decent amount of time before anything grows to be out of control. Good to know.
One of the best indicator for health is our own self-assessment of how we feel.
DON'T RISK YOUR HEALTH TO SAVE A LITTLE MONEY
The older we get, the more aware we become of our mortality. Getting a physical is not enjoyable since they've got to check everything and draw blood. Disliking a physical is a big reason why I didn't go more than once every three years when I was in my 20s. Now it's all about regular maintenance. If you haven't had a physical in more than three years, it's probably best to make an appointment today.
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Updated for 2018 and beyond. Now that I have a son, I'm more motivated than ever to stay in shape, eat healthy, and live as long as possible to see him grow up to be a well-adjusted member of society who finds someone to love.