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With medical insurance premiums at all-time highs, and rising each year, it is important to identify and understand a few practices that would help keep premium costs down. Here at Fusion, we have personally seen a rise in HMO employee-only premiums of 2.5x over the past 8 years with a current rate of inflation under 2%. Medical costs, including insurance, have grown to be one of the most significant expenses for families.
The best way to keep your medical costs to a minimum is staying healthy. Practicing a wellness lifestyle by both eating right and exercising remains the best way to live well, but there are many actions you can take to lower your health care costs beyond choosing affordable health insurance. Below find 7 tips on reducing these expenses:
- Use the Emergency Room for emergencies only. When your illness or injury is serious, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. No referral is required if it is an emergency. If it is NOT an emergency, you will save money by seeing your regular doctor for colds, minor sprains, and other less serious conditions. Furthermore, in many cases, visiting an alternative, such as an urgent care facility, is a much cheaper option. Depending on your medical plan, a co-pay for an urgent care facility is typically less than $100, while an ER visit can exceed $500 – just for walking in the door.
- Understand Your Options. When your doctor prescribes a medication, ask if it is the most cost-effective option. Many times, there may be alternative treatments available for a cost savings.
- Pay Cash. It sounds crazy but it’s true: Sometimes the cash price of a medical procedure will be less than using your insurance. Why? The doctor won’t have to worry about the money becoming uncollectible later. Patients who pay up front in cash often get better deals than their insurance plans have negotiated for them. The key here is you have to become your own best advocate and negotiate. See what the doctor or hospital can do for you if you ask for the cash price.
- Keep your Medical History. Maintaining your medical history including a list of medications, illnesses, doctor’s visits, allergies, etc. will help with the following:
- Staying healthy or diagnosing a condition
- Avoiding harmful prescription drugs
- Make it easier to track expenses in your health savings account
- Contribute to your Health Savings Account. Health savings account funds can be used to pay for qualifying medical, dental, and vision coverage using tax-free money. These accounts are very useful in helping to pay the cost of deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance if you are on the high-deductible plan. Contributions made to these accounts are tax-free, interest is accrued tax-free, and you may take this account if you leave the workforce. Health savings account funds remain in your account from year to year.
- Compare the Prices of Drugs and Services. Check your plan details on the copayment and coinsurance schedules if you are on a HMO or PPO plan. If you are on a high-deductible plan, certain pharmacies have better pricing on certain prescription drugs and some big box stores have generic drug programs (for example Wal-Mart offers certain generics for $4). The costs of certain medical services such as MRIs and CT scans vary significantly so use available cost comparison tools. If you have not met your deductible, going to a lower-cost provider can save you significant money. If the service doesn’t involve a hospital stay, you will almost always find a better price if you avoid going to the hospital for the service.
- Negotiate Bills. Not all providers will negotiate, but it is possible to look into discounts and payment plans with certain providers. Often, interest-free payment plans are available to help balance your bank account and some providers will offer discounts for paying at time of service.
Medical expenses can add up quickly. Your health is your greatest asset, but it doesn’t have to cost you everything. As mentioned above, the best way to reduce medical costs is to live well and stay healthy. Learn from these tips and find the least expensive options for medical costs without sacrificing quality.