Slash Your Healthcare Costs with These Straightforward Strategies

Medical care shouldn't cost an arm and a leg. Here's how to cut back on healthcare costs--without cutting corners.

A new report found that “[a]n estimated 41% of adults face health-care debt, ranging from under $500 (16%) to $10,000 or more (12%),” per CNBC. That’s a staggering statistic—and it illustrates just how widespread the problem of spiraling medical care costs has become.

If you don’t want to go into debt over medical care, read this now. These strategies to save money on healthcare really work!

Be an Informed Patient

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The first step in cutting back medical care costs is educating yourself. Many patients feel intimidated or overwhelmed at the doctor’s office, which can make it difficult to ask questions. However, you have every right to understand your own healthcare. If you don’t understand what a test is for, ask! If you aren’t sure a medication is truly necessary, voice your concerns. The more actively involved you are in the process, the less likely it is that you’ll end up paying for extraneous tests and medications.

Update Your Insurance Coverage

Even people with good jobs can have less than stellar healthcare coverage. Not all insurance is created equal, so if you have a plan with a high deductible or an out-of-pocket maximum that’s out of this world, then consider shopping around for alternatives.

Unless you leave your job or experience another qualifying life event, such as marriage or childbirth, you’ll need to wait until the open enrollment period to shop through the “Obamacare” insurance marketplace. If you’re married, you may have the option of switching to your spouse’s insurance if it offers better benefits. Also, remember that adults up to the age of 26 can remain on their parents’ insurance! You may have more alternatives than you think when it comes to coverage.

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Take Advantage of Free Screenings

Under many insurance plans, preventative care is free. Just a few of the free screening categories offered to all adults are:

  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Hepatitis
  • HIV
  • Various cancers

In addition, you may find city or state resources for additional health screenings. Check to see what’s available to you, including the possibility of free screenings from CVS Health.  

Check Out Wellness Incentives

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It’s in everyone’s best interest if insured people stay as healthy as possible. That’s one of the reasons many insurance providers offer wellness incentives. These programs provide discounted premiums, gift cards, cash, and other prizes to encourage healthy lifestyle choices.

For example, Anthem offers the Smart Rewards program, which earns enrollees $25 when they get a “well-check” with their doctor within 90 days of signing up for coverage. Cigna’s Take Control rewards program allows enrollees to earn up to $275 in prizes. For a more in-depth look at these programs, check out this article by health insurance broker Louise Norris.

It’s possible that your insurance provider offers perks that you don’t even know about!

Read More: How to Enjoy Your Retirement on a Budget

Check Your Bill for Errors

When you receive a medical bill, you probably focus on the total amount you need to pay. However, most bills are itemized so that you can understand exactly how much everything costs.

Shockingly, studies have found that up to 80% of hospital bills contain errors. It can be extremely difficult to navigate the medical billing process. Even if you do your due diligence before seeking care—something that’s not possible in an emergency—you can still be hit with surprises.

When those surprises come from an outright error, stand your ground! According to Healthline, “the wrong code can lead to an overcharge of hundreds — or thousands — of dollars. A National Academy of Medicine report estimates about $210 billion is spent on unneeded or overpriced treatments.” Always ask for an itemized bill so that you can review the charges and push back when you think there’s been an error.

Skip the Emergency Room If Possible

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A few times, it’s absolutely essential to visit the emergency room. A suspected heart attack or stroke should always be checked out in the ER, for example. However, many other issues can and should be addressed at an urgent care clinic or your GP’s office.

In general, the following symptoms warrant a visit to the ER:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting or extreme dizziness
  • Confusion or difficulty speaking
  • Bleeding that won’t stop
  • Severe or sudden pain

Only you can make the final determination about whether to visit the emergency room or an urgent care clinic, but if you’re experiencing something painful but not immediately life-threatening, such as a sinus infection or a sprained ankle, then you’re likely to save money by skipping the ER.

Use GoodRx to Find the Best Drug Prices

Most people already know to ask for generic versions of prescription medications—and most doctors prescribe generics by default. However, if your doctor feels that a particular medication is the best choice for you, then it’s important to shop around for the best price.

It seems like all pharmacies should charge the same price for the same medication, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, prices can vary wildly from store to store. GoodRx is a website that helps you find the lowest medication prices at pharmacies near you. Simply type in the name and dosage on your prescription and find out how much you could save. In many cases, you can clip a coupon straight to your phone to get you a better deal than the list price.

If you’ve been prescribed a prescription drug without a generic alternative, it’s often worthwhile to go straight to the manufacturer’s website. Many of the major drug companies offer significant discounts. All you have to do is sign up to receive a coupon code that you can present to your pharmacist.

Order Three-Month Refills Online

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Before we leave the topic of prescription drugs, let’s talk about refills. Getting a one-month refill from your local pharmacy has a lot of downsides. Not only do you have to remember to order the refill every month, but you also have to factor in transportation to pick up your medicine. If you take multiple medications that are on different refill schedules, you could be making multiple trips to the pharmacy each month!

If you have the option, ordering three-month refills by mail is usually much more cost-effective. Check with your insurance provider to see if they offer this service. You’ll save not only money but time as well.

Keep Your Own Records and Bring Them with You

While some hospital networks are now managing patient records through a shared portal, such as MyChart, other systems are still in the dark ages. If you’ve recently moved or been referred to a specialist, make sure to get copies of test results and other records for yourself. Here’s a guide to how you can get your hands on that information.

Discuss Price Upfront

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Before you agree to any kind of care, ask about the price. For example, let’s say you were referred to a physical therapist for a shoulder injury. Without any knowledge of how this type of specialized care works, you might not have a clue how much a course of treatment will cost. Sticker shock is understandable when you realize that your copay for each visit is $50… and the therapist expects you to come twice a week.

While it’s not fair or just that many patients need to weigh medical care against cost, that’s how the current system works in America. It is better to estimate how much treatment will run before you agree to it. At least then, you can make an informed decision.

Check on the Cash Price and Negotiate Your Bill

Ironically, paying cash is sometimes less expensive than going through your insurance. If your coverage is only so-so, then you might want to ask about a possible self-pay discount.

Another option? Negotiate your bill after the fact. It’s possible to get your bill lowered by having a conversation with an administrator. There are even professional bill negotiators who’ll take up the fight for you. Learn more about how to negotiate bills at U.S. News & World Report.

Set Up a Payment Plan

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Many hospitals and doctor networks will offer payment plans to their patients who cannot pay a bill in a lump sum. Often, these payment plans do not involve collecting interest. That’s huge if you’re torn between paying the bill off immediately with a credit card or signing up for monthly payments. Over time, you’ll save money with the payment plan. If a payment plan isn’t offered to you, ask if it’s an option.

Take Better Care of Yourself

Prevention isn’t just the best medicine—it’s also the cheapest. Taking proactive measures to preserve and even improve your health can help avoid bigger medical bills down the line. While there’s no guarantee that a healthy lifestyle means you’ll never land in the hospital, you’ll be less likely to develop chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

At its most basic, a healthy lifestyle involves getting eight hours of quality sleep, exercising for 30 minutes five times a week, and eating plenty of vegetables.

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