Study after study has revealed that one of the top concerns Americans have is paying for healthcare. And for good reason. While wages have risen a modest 10% since 2010, healthcare deductibles have risen 67% in the same time period for American workers.
Instead of skipping treatment because the first $2,000, $4,000 or $10,000 of the expense would be completely out of pocket until your deductible is met, there are ways to shop smart for healthcare and save a few extra dollars along the way.
Telemedicine is not a new practice, but has gained popularity as technology has become easier and faster, delivering a doctor or nurse over the phone or through video chat for immediate consultation. The average urgent care visit is $250, and takes hours away from home when the patient could be resting. Telemedicine visits are typically $40-$50, and can treat nearly all urgent care needs, and prescribe medications.
Health Savings Account
With certain qualifying high deductible health insurance plans, health savings accounts can be an added benefit to put away money for future healthcare expenses. Typically health savings accounts are available through your employer, but if they don’t participate in a program or you purchase health insurance on your own, you can open one up at your local bank. Health savings accounts allow you to save pre-tax money from your payroll deduction or direct deposit, and you are never taxed for withdrawing money.
Shop Pricing in Advance of Care
Medical costs can be an anomaly. It’s a given that a doctor office visit at the Cleveland Clinic is going to cost more than a doctor office visit in Boise, Idaho. But remarkably, costs can vary in the same city from provider to provider for the exact same procedure, and cost hundreds of dollars more than someone else with an office just 10 miles away. Healthcare Blue Book can provide estimated “fair value” costs in advance of care so you know if your doctor or medical facility is in line with the average cost in your area, and change to a most cost appropriate doctor or facility if need be.
Health insurance plans traditionally have networks of providers for you to choose from, resulting in an “in-network” visit, which is less money than an out-of-network visit where predetermined pricing hasn’t been negotiated. Some plans have wider networks than others. For example, some healthcare plans have smaller networks of just local doctors in your region, and other plans have state-wide networks. It’s important to make sure any health insurance plan you are analyzing has your doctor in-network before purchasing a plan.
Negotiate Your Bills
The “total amount due” on your medical invoice isn’t necessarily the final price. Many times a provider will negotiate your medical bill if you contact them immediately and state that you cannot pay the full amount, but want to work out terms with them. It is far more advantageous for medical providers to collect some money in stages than send a bill to collections. Some providers will even give an automatic 10% discount on any new service if the total is paid in full within 30 days. Always check with your provider to see what you can negotiate.
Shop For a New Health Insurance Plan
Each year, whether you are an employee or buy health insurance on your own, you have the option to purchase a new health insurance plan during the open enrollment period. Typically, employees don’t have as many options as self-insured individuals, but both groups can shop for new plans each year. During open enrollment, look at the amount of healthcare you need and determine if a high deductible plan might work for your few medical needs, or upgrade to a richer plan that will cover more medical expenses, keeping more dollars in your own pocket.
Buy Supplemental Health Insurance
Do you have a high deductible health insurance plan, but can’t afford to pay several thousand dollars out of pocket if an unexpected accident or critical illness arises? Supplemental health insurance can cover the gap between paying your first medical bill, up to meeting your deductible amount. For illustration, imagine that you are in a car accident and suffer a broken wrist. After the ER visit, seeing a doctor, X-ray and setting the broken bone, the final bill can be between $1,147-$6,065, depending on your location. If you have a $6,000 insurance deductible, nearly all of the expense is your responsibility. But with a supplemental health insurance plan, you would receive cash to pay for your injury, and be able to pay off your medical debt immediately.
High deductible health insurance plans are not always ideal for individuals with limited income or high medical bills, so it pays to look for alternative ways to save money on your healthcare.