Here are some practical strategies you can use to save money on healthcare.
1. Practice preventative health care
Thanks to the Affordable Healthcare Act, most people can take advantage of free preventative services, such as an annual wellness visit, mammograms, colonoscopies, and vaccines. Catching any early signs of a disorder, cancer, or illness can save you money down the road. Another preventative measure that could save you money on health care is keeping your health care records organized and accessible. Bring any relevant health care records to your doctor appointment to prevent your doctor from performing any unnecessary or duplicate tests.
Getting in the habit of being safe and healthy everyday can also save you money in the long run. Wearing a helmet and visible clothing when riding a bike and driving responsibly, even if you’re in a hurry, are ways you can safeguard yourself daily. Taking care of your teeth, exercising, and eating healthy regularly can keep you and your wallet well and away from the doctor and dentist.
2. Pick the best health insurance plan for you
While it may be tempting to go with the health insurance plan with the lowest monthly premium or a health insurance plan you’ve had before, don’t. To pick the health insurance plan that’s right for you, make a list of your average number of doctor appointments and dentist appointments per year, your prescriptions, and any other health care services that you partake in. Take that list and compare how much you’d be spending on different plans, calculating in monthly premiums and deductibles. Compare plans in the federal health insurance marketplace with plans in the independent marketplace to find the best plan and price for you. Another place to look is your state’s Farm Bureau. You can join the Farm Bureau—even if you’re not a farmer—by paying an annual fee that gets you access to a variety of discounts, which includes health insurance for some states.
3. Know your health insurance plan’s coverage
Many health insurance plans offer extras, which aren’t always well advertised. For example, if you explore your plan’s website, you might find that your plan has nurses on call that can save you a trip to the doctor’s office, or you may find that your plan covers acupuncture, chiropractic, or weight loss programs. You can also call your health insurance company to find out the prices of regular check-ups, which are often low-cost or fully covered by your plan.
It’s a good idea to keep your doctor in the loop with your coverage as well. For instance, if you need a prescription, print a list of prescriptions from your health insurance’s website and bring it in to your appointment to help your doctor pick the most affordable option for you. Likewise, if you need to go to a specialist, make sure your doctor picks one that’s covered by your plan.
4. Comparison shop for medication and procedures
The price of medication and procedures can vary widely. For medication, always go generic— just like pharmacists do— and compare prices across drugstores and warehouse clubs to find the lowest price. For procedures, ask your doctor for the current procedural terminology (CPT) code of your procedure, which is a five-digit billing code that’s consistent across hospitals. You can call various medical centers to compare the price of your procedure using the CPT code.
If you ever find yourself wondering if you should go to the emergency room (ER) or your doctor, choose your doctor. Going to the ER can be astronomically expensive, and you may have to wait even longer to be seen at the ER than you’d wait to be seen by your doctor.
5. Question everything
Don’t be afraid to question everything. Since medical centers are also businesses that aim to create revenue, it’s possible that there may be a conflict of interest at times. As health care gets more expensive, doctors are getting more used to hearing questions about costs, and many are willing to negotiate a lower price if you are strapped for money.
Some common questions to ask your doctor that may save you money include:
- “Do I really need that test/service/procedure/prescription?”
- “How much will I be paying out of pocket in total?”
- “I have insurance, and I could pay some out-of-pocket, but I don’t have the money to pay the full price of the procedure; can you see if the finance department will work with me?”
- “Is there any way we can negotiate a lower price?”
- “How much would you get for doing this procedure if you were getting reimbursed by Medicare?”
- “Is there a discount if I pay in cash?”
- “Will splitting the cost between December and January save me money?”
- “Do you have any samples of that drug?”
- “Are there higher dosage pills that I could cut in half to save money?”
It’s also important to ask yourself, “Is everything on my medical bills and explanation of benefits correct and as expected? Did my doctor/medical center make a mistake on the billing code, account number, or insurance company?” As many as 80% of medical bills can contain errors, so get used to scrutinizing your bills to make sure you aren’t paying anything you shouldn’t be.