TV cameras and newspaper pundits may be glued to the endless health care battles in Washington, but a bigger health drama is unfolding outside the Beltway -- at kitchen tables just like yours. With 50 million Americans uninsured and another 25 mil stuck with skimpy health plans, everything from doctor visits and mammograms to preventive care and prescription drugs are getting booted out of family budgets. If you're worried about money these days, the math is familiar: When food, electricity and housing claim every dollar you have, something's gotta give. Too often, it's health care. Surveys have found:

--11 percent of those who need prescription drugs have reduced doses or quit taking them completely.

--22 percent are seeing the doc less.

--30 percent have cut back on preventive care.

--60 percent of family doctors say fewer patients are getting screenings for breast, cervical and colon cancer, which is a big uh-oh, because early detection makes these cancers way more curable.

--And in one devastating report, people with cancer that had been under control saw tumors regrow when they could no longer afford cancer-taming drugs.

It shouldn't happen. Skimping on health is way too costly, physically and financially. For example, stopping drugs for chronic health problems (heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, etc.) pushes your risk for a scarily expensive trip to the hospital (or even of dying) sky-high.

These six steps can help you stay healthy without emptying your wallet:

1. Have "the talk" with your doc. Physicians are trying to help. Two out of three family doctors say they're reducing fees, doing more pro bono work and offering free screenings when they can. Reasonable requests: Ask about a discount for paying cash or whether your doc will accept the same discounted fees Medicare and insurance companies pay. Get Medicare rates from the American Medical Association at; you'll need the Current Procedural Terminology Code, which your doctor's office can provide. Check the fees paid by insurance companies at

2. Cut drug bills down to size. Don't leave a doc's office with a new prescription until you know it's affordable. Good ways to keep costs down (besides going generic, of course): Get an Rx for double-strength pills and split them (often, but not always, surprisingly cheaper). And ask for a fistful of sample packs (hey, it's a start). Then scout for the most affordable pharmacy in town, including big-box stores like Walmart, Kmart, CVS and Target -- their low prices for generic meds are famous ($4 to $5 a month and sometimes even less). No generic and no drug coverage? The Partnership for Prescription Assistance often can find a program to help you pay for medications. It also has info for people who cannot afford their meds even with health insurance. Visit or call 888-477-2669.

3. Snap up free health screenings. From skin-cancer checks in May to diabetes tests in November, local and national organizations offer free or low-cost screenings every month of the year, usually as part of health awareness campaigns. Find a full list at In addition, 26 states offer free or low-price colorectal cancer screenings (details at And take advantage of mammogram and Pap test programs through the government's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.

Don't stop there. Call local hospitals and health centers; check newspaper listings, too. You can save a bundle on preventive health care this way.

4. Check out faith-based wellness programs. Want to lose weight, cut your risk for diabetes and boost heart fitness without paying health-club prices? Check your house of worship. Faith-based wellness programs (often weekly exercise and nutrition classes) are cropping up from coast to coast and getting real results.

5. Over 65? Don't miss out. There are extra services if you're in this age group. Log on to, a service of the National Council on Aging. Say we sent you.

6. Take care of yourself. Just four lifestyle changes -- eating healthy foods in moderate amounts, staying physically active, avoiding tobacco (including secondhand smoke) and meditating for 15 minutes morning and night -- will reverse or prevent the majority of type 2 diabetes, artery disease and many others.

The YOU Docs, Mehmet Oz and Mike Roizen, are authors of "YOU: On a Diet." Want more? See "The Dr. Oz Show" on TV (check local listings). To submit questions, visit