It’s not easy to save money on healthcare in the United States. The status of healthcare is up in the air and the functionality of the healthcare system is abysmal. It makes no sense and keeps costing more money. For a really good overview of all the problems and possible solutions, I highly recommend Elisabeth Rosenthal’s book, An American Sickness. It uses many, many real life examples and ends with a plan of action on how to solve the problem with many tips on things you can do. Some of the ideas listed in this post are from there, others are ones I’ve encountered in my own research.
Save Money on Healthcare
Here are some actionable things you can do to try to help keep your health bills down:
Talk To Your Doctor
When you are given a prescription, ask about it. What does it do? Why do I need it? Is there a generic available? If a test is ordered for you, ask why. Ask what would change based on the outcome of the test. Many, many tests will return an abnormal reading that would not have been noticed without the test. Most of these abnormalities would never cause problems, but once discovered, are most likely to be treated. Now you’re stuck paying the test fees and the unnecessary treatment fees as well.
Add an “In-Network” Stipulation
This is one of my favorite tips from Rosenthal. A new trend is happening in the United States where a hospital will be in your insurance network but then you’ll get outrageous out-of-network bills from the doctors that treat you in that same hospital. When you’re in the hospital, they will have you sign a form that says you’re accepting financial responsibility for the treatment you receive in the hospital. On this form add a statement like: “I only accept financial responsibility for charges from providers that are in my insurance network.” As Rosenthal argues, this may not make the charges go away, but it gives you some clout when they do come and you argue them.
Always ask doctors if they offer up-front or cash discounts. A friend of mine had no maternity insurance a few years ago when she was going to have a baby. She called the two hospitals in town and asked how much it would be to deliver a baby. She negotiated a rate and paid up front for further discounts. I’ve been offered discounts for paying in full before the procedure. I’ve also been offered a PFD special on one medical bill. You never know if there’s a discount unless you ask!
Take Your Medications as Prescribed
I’ve done a great deal of research on how expensive it is to not take your prescription medications. You may think you’re saving money by not paying for the pills, but you may end up paying a lot more for increased medical costs in the long-run, especially with chronic diseases. Also, maybe you think you can save money by only taking half of the prescribed dose. Half the dose doesn’t always mean half the effectiveness. In some medications, taking only half the does gives you NONE of the effectiveness. If you’re given a course of antibiotics, take the WHOLE course. Sure, you’ll probably feel great on day 3, but you have to take it ALL. Why? Because if you don’t, you are only helping the problem of antibiotic resistance get worse! Again, you should always check with your doctor if there is a generic that would work as well for your situation.
Know Your Benefits
Insurance companies do not make it easy to figure out what you should be paying when. Because of this, many people miss out on benefits they have they don’t know about. For example, in our insurance, we get a certain amount toward eye exams every year, but our eye insurance is a separate affiliate rather than the main insurer. My eye doctor bills my eye insurance, but my daughter’s eye doctor only bills my health insurance. When I get that bill back that says they won’t cover it, I have to call my eye insurance myself and send them the Explanation of Benefits to get my money back. It’s annoying, but it’s one example where knowing my benefits saves me money! Also, know when your plan year changes and when your deductible starts over. If you’re looking to get a mole removed and you’ve already hit your deductible for the year, go do it now instead of waiting until next plan year when you have to start paying that deductible again.
Use an HSA or HRSA
Health Savings Accounts or Healthcare Reimbursement Accounts are fundamentally different and if you have one, you don’t have access to the other. If your employer offers either one, it gives you the ability to put money in an account to pay for healthcare PRE-TAX. This can save you quite a bit of money even if you’re just using it to pay that year’s healthcare bills. Even at a 15% tax bracket, putting $1000 in one of those accounts that you’ll spend that year on healthcare anyway can save you $150 in taxes.
Make Healthy Choices
I conclude with this paragraph with a giant dose of caveat. Making healthy choices WILL NOT prevent you from all illnesses, but there are definitely many you can avoid by not smoking, eating healthy, and walking. Be active. Be smart. We’ll all get sick anyway, but we can improve our chances of recovery when we do if we’re already making smart choices for our body.
Until this country figures out how to actually care about the patient, you’ll need to look out for yourself and your wallet!