Americans spend thousands of dollars on healthcare each year. We want to cut that down so here are 21 ways to save on healthcare costs.
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Read it and Weep
In 2016, the average person spent an astronomical $10,345 each year on healthcare costs. Medical expenses are now the leading cause of bankruptcy, outpacing even credit card debt and having medical insurance is no guarantee that medical bills won’t bankrupt you.
Some people decide to forgo having medical insurance as a way to save money. If you’re young and healthy, it can be tempting to consider this option. My insurance premium costs me $198 a month, and I use it once a year to get a checkup. Which I pay for out of pocket because my lousy deductible is $2,000. So I pay $2,376 a year on my premium and another few hundred for that one appointment.
I can see why people would just decide they’re better off with that money in their pocket. But the only thing more expensive than having insurance in America is not having it.
Costs vary widely depending on a number of factors but a trip to the ER with insurance costs between $50-$150 and without costs $150-$3,000. If a trip to the ER were to require surgery and you had no insurance, you could be faced with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills, and the cost could even be higher than that.
Not having health insurance as a way to save on healthcare costs is not an option. But these can help you save money while not compromising your health.
1. An Ounce of Prevention
There are a lot of things we can do to avoid ill health, eat well, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and manage our stress. If you struggle with any of those things, there is a wealth of information out there to help you figure out how to do improve those areas of your life.
This list will give you a lot of great, reputable sites that can help you improve these aspects of your health. You don’t have to spend a fortune on expensive food or fancy gym memberships to eat well and exercise. I spend about $50 a week on groceries, and I eat healthier than almost anyone I know.
I exercise 5-7 days a week without belonging to a gym or taking expensive fitness classes. I do body weight and dumbbell exercises at home and then go for a run. The weights cost me about $25, and I do have good running shoes which are something I recommend not cheaping out on.
My shoes cost less than $100, and because I run so often, I replace them every six months. But spending money on good shoes and replacing them when they start to wear out may save me money on orthopedic bills eventually. Running in improper or worn shoes can damage feet and joints.
2. Don’t Do Dumb Stuff
We’ve all seen videos of people doing dumb stuff and getting hurt in the process, jumping off a roof into a pool, locking themselves out of their homes and piling up lawn furniture in an attempt to reach an open window rather than calling a lock smith.
What we didn’t see was the aftermath of their attempts to win a Darwin Award. But you can bet they included medical bills.
Don’t do stuff like that, wear a helmet when you bike, wear your seatbelt when you’re in a car. Don’t do dumb stuff and watch the healthcare savings pile up!
3. Preventative Care
Many people avoid going to the doctor until something is wrong. But the problem is, by the time you have symptoms, the problem can be far gone enough that it’s going to be expensive to resolve or beyond being resolved.
Get a regular, yearly checkup. Once you’re over a certain age, you need to start having screenings for things like breast and colon cancer. Don’t neglect those either.
All Marketplace health plans and many others must provide free, meaning you don’t have to pay a co-pay or coinsurance even if you haven’t yet met your deductible, preventative services. You can see what’s covered at no cost here.
4. Wash Your Hands
Seriously, wash your hands a lot. If you already wash your hands a lot, you could probably stand to do it a little more. A lot of cases of the common cold and flu could be prevented if we washed our hands more.
Contracting a cold or the flu can mean medical appointments, prescription and over the counter drugs, missed work, and even hospitalization, all of which cost us money.
Keep your hands off your face too. We touch our eyes, noses, and mouths much more than we realize. And try to avoid touching things like ATM keypads and elevator buttons, known as germ hotspots, with your fingertips.
Push the buttons with your knuckles instead. Your knuckles touch your face less often than your fingertips.
5. Free Screenings
You can find free or low cost health screenings in lots of places; drug stores, fairs, festivals, and community centers. You can be screened for and get information on things like diabetes, high blood pressure, and vision problems.
6. Find a Good Doctor
Ideally, you’ll want to find a good, young doctor. Not because a young doctor is necessarily better than an older doctor but because you want to establish a long-term relationship.
When you see the same doctor for many years, he or she is much better positioned to notice changes in your health that need to be addressed than a doctor you’ve only seen for a short time.
Partnering with a younger doctor means better continuity of care.
Finding a good doctor can be tricky. Start by getting recommendations from people you know and then based on those, read online reviews on sites like HealthGrades and Vitals. Don’t take the reviews on those sites as the gospel, of course, people are much more likely to complain than to pay a compliment but they can be a good place to narrow down the list if you have been given a few recommendations.
7. Educate Yourself
Doctors don’t know everything. I have been appalled to hear doctors still recommending that patients not eat egg yolks because doing so raises cholesterol. The cholesterol myth has been debunked for years, but some doctors don’t seem to have gotten the message.
Because doctors can’t know everything and because some cling on to outdated science, it’s up to us to educate ourselves. Don’t take what any doctor tells you as gospel. Do your own research and get a second opinion before you do anything drastic like have surgery or start taking a prescription medication.
8. Compare Prices
Stores don’t expect us to walk in, see that nothing has a price on it, but take the items we need to buy to the check out anyway and just pay whatever they decide to charge but that’s exactly how healthcare works. There is no transparency in pricing. Doctors, hospitals, and facilities more or less set their own prices, and you don’t know what something is going to cost until you get the bills weeks or months later.
Amino is trying to change that. This is probably the best thing on this list. You can log into Amino and compare costs for doctors and procedures in your area.
Enter in the procedure you need, your area, the type of insurance you have (if you have it), and Amino will show you how much it costs around your area. Amazingly, the range I got for ACL surgery was from $5,203-$17,947. Imagine paying nearly $20,000 for a surgery that you could have had for $5,000 if you’d only known that one hospital was much cheaper than another!
Amino will also show your approximate cost depending on things like how much of your deductible has been met, and then a list of nearby doctors who perform the procedure and their prices.
Amino does a lot more than that and I could go on and on about them. If you’re an American healthcare consumer, this site is a must. We should have the right to know how much a medical procedure is going to cost before making a decision and Amino gives us that information.
9. For Prescriptions Too
Don’t make the mistake of getting prescriptions filled at whatever pharmacy happens to be closest to your home. Prescription prices can vary from pharmacy to pharmacy.
People can be very brand loyal, and sometimes there is a notable difference between a brand and a generic product. But that’s not the case when it comes to over the counter and prescription medications. Well, there is one notable difference. The brand name drugs are 80-85% more expensive than their generic counterparts.
The FDA mandates that generic medications have the same active ingredients, strength, route of administration (how the drug is taken), and dosage as a brand name medication. The only difference is in the inactive ingredients which are just the ingredients that hold the medication together.
This holds true for over the counter medications as well as prescriptions. So put down that bottle of Tylenol and pick up the store brand bottle of acetaminophen.
11. Look for Coupons
Many drug companies offer discounts and coupons for their prescriptions. Ask your doctor if he or she has the coupons or go directly to the manufacturer’s website. Ask your doctor if they can provide you with free samples of your prescription. I worked for a doctor that literally had a closet full of medication samples, and there were always drug reps stopping by to ask if we needed more.
12. Consider the Benefits
Salary isn’t everything when it comes to a job offer. Because buying healthcare on your own is so expensive, it can be a savings to take a job that offers health insurance but a lower salary rather than a job with no insurance and a higher salary, especially if you have a family who needs insurance coverage too.
Do the math before taking either offer.
13. Urgent Care
Of course, there are some situations where going to the emergency room is the only option, like a heart attack or a gunshot wound, but for a non-life threatening medical situation, go to an Urgent Care center instead.
Cigna compiled claim data from their 2016 claims and found that the average Urgent Care visit cost $176 while the average ER visit cost $2,259.
Not only is Urgent Care cheaper than the emergency room, the wait will be shorter too. I needed to go to Urgent Care for something relatively minor about two years ago. There was a location less than a mile from me, and I was able to go online and choose a time. It’s not exactly the same thing as making an appointment since like the ER, Urgent Care must see patients in greater need faster, but if there are no more urgent patients, you get in at the time you chose.
I went in a few minutes ahead of the appointed time, filled out a little paperwork and was taken right in. I don’t think the whole thing took more than 30 minutes and it was covered by my insurance. That’s not always the case though so find out if your insurance company covers these visits and if so, under what circumstances.
Most Urgent Care centers aren’t open 24 hours a day, seven days a week but they do usually have early, late, weekend, and holiday hours.
14. Look for Mistakes
Ask for an itemized bill for all of your medical appointments and hospital stays. A simple coding mistake might mean you were charged for a procedure that you didn’t actually have.
If your insurance company has denied to cover something, ask your doctor to write an appeal. The decision isn’t always overturned in your favor but I worked in the medical field for many years and it does happen. If the appeal is denied, escalate it and contact your state’s insurance commission. It’s a body that can mediate disputes between consumers and insurance companies.
Be sure to have as much documentation as you can showing that the procedure or prescription being denied is medically necessary.
16. Time It Right
If you need an expensive, but non-urgent procedure, see if it can be scheduled after you’ve met your deductible so it will be covered under your insurance.
17. Deduct Expenses
If your medical expenses, including deductibles, co-pays, prescriptions, vision care, dental care, and travel to receive medical care, can be deducted from your taxes (if you itemize) if they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income.
A trip in an ambulance can cost thousands of dollars and the patient has no control over which hospital they’ll be taken to. If you end up at an out of network hospital, that may cost thousands more.
This is similar to our ER versus Urgent Care scenario. If you’re gravely injured or in need of immediate medical attention, take an ambulance. Even if it doesn’t get to you as fast an Uber, there will be paramedics on hand to treat you on the way to the hospital.
And don’t use a ride-share service if you are going to make a mess in the car for the driver to clean up. We’ll leave it at that rather than detailing gross medical scenarios where that might happen!
Just use your common sense. If you break your wrist, don’t take an ambulance to the emergency room, take an Uber to Urgent Care.
If you’re having a heart attack, that’s when you need an ambulance and an emergency room.
19. Dental Costs
Even if you have dental insurance, it doesn’t pay for much beyond routine care. Ever wonder why there is such a difference between medical and dental insurance? It’s because the ADA, American Dental Association, has fought tooth and nail (pun intended) to keep them separate. That way dentists can charge whatever they want, their fees aren’t set by the insurance companies.
If you need a lot of dental work, find a dental school near you. You may have to wait longer to get an appointment than you would with a private dentist, but the cost will be hundreds, even thousands of dollars cheaper.
If you need medical or dental care that you can’t pay for upfront, you can ask your provider if he or she accepts CareCredit. CareCredit is a credit card designed specifically for health expenses. Users can pay no interest for 6, 12, 18, or 24 months for charges of $200 or more.
Be sure to pay off your balance before the 0% APR period ends and the interest rate kicks in.
21. Make a Call
Many insurance companies employ registered nurses to answer patient questions. There is usually no cost for these calls, and you can get medical advice for non-urgent situations.
It’s the System We Have
The healthcare system we have is broken. We spend the most and get the least. But it’s the system we’re stuck with for now so we have to do what we can to save on healthcare costs ourselves.