(This is a guest article by Mary Ward*)
Healthcare costs are among one of today’s hottest topics. And, one thing that’s not up for debate is the fact that, whether you have employer provided healthcare or you’re paying for it on your own, costs have risen dramatically in the last few years. In fact, costs have risen so dramatically that many small businesses have had to cut health insurance for their employees, or at least reduce the benefits they pay for, and new businesses have difficulty adding this benefit for their workers. More people are paying for their own healthcare insurance than ever before. But, there are a few things you can do to reduce your healthcare costs under nearly any insurance plan.
- Get a healthcare spending account – Healthcare spending accounts, sometimes called flexible spending accounts, allow you to have money taken from your paycheck on a pre-tax basis to go into an account to pay for out of pocket healthcare expenses. Because the money comes out pre-tax, you save tax dollars on anything you spend on healthcare in a year. You can use this money to pay co-pays and doctor bills as well as for prescriptions and over the counter medications. One drawback to these accounts is that any money you don’t spend during the calendar year is lost. So, be certain not to put too much into the account. And, as the year draws to a close, be certain that you’ve submitted all pertinent receipts for reimbursement.
- Get healthy – Your healthcare costs over your lifetime will be less if you stay healthy. So, lose weight if you need to and quit smoking. In addition, don’t neglect preventative screenings like checkups, as these can help you catch any issues early on. In addition, some employers today are offering cash incentives to employees who meet certain health criteria. In the future, expect to see higher insurance premiums for people who are more at risk for disease, such as smokers and those who are obese. There’s no question that, over the next few years, the healthiest people will get the best insurance rates.
- Switch to a "high deductible" plan – If you’re relatively healthy, a high deductible plan may save money over the long run. In such plans, you receive insurance negotiated rates for services and pay very low premiums. However, rather than co-pays you pay for each doctor visit at the negotiated rate. A healthcare account can be established for you (and sometimes your employer) to deposit money for paying your medical bills. There are two primary advantages to these plans. The first is that, in most cases, preventative procedures are free. This feature saves you hundreds of dollars each year and removes any excuses for not getting routine checkups and testing performed. The second is that the money in your healthcare account bears interest and rolls over from year to year. So, if you can stay healthy for a few years, you’ll have money built up when a big medical expense comes along.
- Tweak your options – Similar to the above, even small changes to things like office visits, emergency room, and prescription co-pays can make a sizable difference in your premium. If you are willing to pay slightly higher co-pays, you may find an advantageous trade-off in the form of your premium. Just be sure to work the numbers so that the co-pays don't end up costing you as much as the premium savings. Also, ask about other features that could benefit your wallet, such as free (no co-pay) annual exams and discounts on eye care or dentistry.
- Working the Network – Depending on your provider and plan, you may have lower-cost yet still quality options for using in-network providers for much lower premiums and co-pays. Talk to health plans to see if something like this can work for you, but realize that it often means switching your care provider; that's a benefit you'll have to weigh out.
- Use those benefits! Many plans offer reimbursements and vouchers for things like gym memberships, weight loss plans, children's activities, and more. Often, these are things you are paying for anyway, not to mention that they are designed to get you healthier (see number 2) so be sure to take advantage of these programs—a few minutes filing an application really can add up to hundreds in savings.
- Shop around – It’s not usually a wise idea to simply renew health insurance coverage each year without evaluating your options. If you haven’t shopped around for healthcare insurance in a few years, now is the time. Even if it means just evaluating a second option your employer may offer, it could pay to make a switch. Be sure to check with the company providing your auto insurance, too. They often have health insurance plans, and with a multi-line discount, may offer a very attractive policy. Never assume that your employer’s plan offers the best deal. Unions and other professional organizations may offer discount health insurance policies, too.
Healthcare and medical insurance are very volatile subjects in the US right now. We can only hope that all the discussion will lead us to more options and more affordable options for everyone. In the meantime, however, don’t forget to look at ways to save money on your current plan, as well as evaluating that plan to see if it still works for you or if another plan can save you money. We all need healthcare insurance; we just don’t need to go broke trying to get it.
*About the author: Mary Ward is a freelance writer and likes writing about healthcare career topics, such as how to obtain an online x-ray tech degree.
*Image Credit: Photograph by Badly Drawn Dad [via Flickr Creative Commons]