5 Ways to Save on Medical Costs
This article is sponsored by VSP Individual Vision Plans.
When it comes to personal health care costs, the U.S. surpasses many other countries, taking a sizeable bite out of our annual budgets.
Out-of-pocket health care expenses here in the U.S. rank highest among developed nations including Switzerland, Australia, and Japan. According to a recent analysis, Americans spend an average $10,224 per year for various health care services.
While our current health-care system can be complex and insufficient in some ways, I’ve got advice on how to reduce the cost burden by being more proactive and tapping into certain programs and benefits.
1. Negotiate with Your Doctor. Did you know you could even do this? Yes, you can! Before a medical procedure, book a call or an appointment with your physician to discuss cost-saving alternatives or how you may be able to lower your bill. In my research, I’ve learned that your physician – much like your financial advisor – has a fiduciary responsibility to help you meet your medical needs. Doctors not only are expected to prescribe you the right medicine, but also make sure your financial needs are met. So, be honest with your doctor ahead of time and let her know that you want to find the best and most affordable route to getting the care you need
Pro tip: Shop around before you discuss saving money with your health care provider. Estimates for root canals and knee surgeries run the gamut. You can find fair pricing estimates for common procedures and surgeries at HealthCareBlueBook.com. From there, if you find a lower price than what was quoted to you, ask your doctor to beat or accept that rate.
2. Look Out for Billing Errors
I’ve definitely received a bill or two in the past that was completely wrong. A few years ago, a medical bill was erroneously sent to my house that *should* have been sent to my insurance provider and was addressed to me, stating I was delinquent on paying my bill. Talk about scary! I called my insurance company and they couldn’t have been more helpful. The agent immediately got on the phone with the collection agency and told them to reroute the bill to the insurance company and to stop harassing me. Yeesh!
Close to 80 percent of hospital bills contain errors, according to a survey by the Medical Billing Advocates of America. Be sure to track all your tests, medications, and check them against your medical file which you can get from your hospital’s billing office. If you spot an error, send them a letter in writing requesting to fix the mistake and keep your insurer notified by giving them copies of all documentation.
3. Straddle a Procedure
One way to make health costs more affordable is to spread out a multi-visit procedure (if your doctor recommends it). Since insurance typically caps coverage to a certain amount every year, if you schedule the appointments over this year and next, you can spread out the costs and tap into your insurance each time. I did this for a dental procedure once that was going to require two visits. My dentist said it was fine to do the first step in November and the second in January when my insurance renewed.
4. Shop Around for Vision Care
Vision care expenses can be all over the place, depending on your doctor and geographical location. FAIR Health, a non-profit, has run the numbers and found that eye exams, alone, can be anywhere from $50 to $300 a visit. That doesn’t include the cost of glasses or contact lenses. A great way to save on vision care is to shop around for insurance plans. One I highly recommend is VSP Individual Vision Plans, which provides affordable vision coverage you can buy on your own for as low as $13 per month. I’ve partnered with the brand because I think it’s especially perfect for the self-employed and thanks to VSP, I was able to secure affordable (and fashionable!) glasses recently.
5. Tap Your FSA
A Health FSA, or Flexible Spending Account, lets you set aside pretax money to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses like health insurance premiums, deductibles, and co-payments. Because you’re not taxed on this money, it’s sort of like scoring a discount. For example, if you’re in the 24% tax bracket and you decide to use an FSA to pay for $2,000 in out-of-pocket expenses, you save $480 in annual income tax.
Be sure to use up your FSA account before the end of the year. While there is a ‘grace period’ that allows you to use up remaining dollars in your 2019 account until March 15, 2020, you can only ‘carry over’ $500 of the unused funds after that into the next plan year.