5 Ways to Cut Health Costs - NerdWallet

5 Ways to Cut Health Costs

How to Cut Medical Costs

Your health is important – and so is your bank account – so find out the best ways to cut health costs without sacrificing your well-being.

A study last year by The Commonwealth Fund found that more than one-third of Americans go without recommended care, do not see a doctor when sick or fail to fill prescriptions in an effort to save money – all of which may be detrimental to their health. However, there are ways to cut medical costs without compromising quality or your health.

1. Shop around for the best insurance plan.

Health insurance premiums and other charges can vary greatly between plans and companies. Start by understanding the basics of health insurance and then navigate to your state’s health care marketplace, where you can compare health insurance plans side by side. Remember that choosing the plan with the lowest monthly premium may not save you the most money, as deductibles and copayments will affect how much you end up paying.

Think about how often you and your family members go to the doctor each year and the routine prescriptions you require. Compare the cost of your health services between plans – taking into account premiums, deductibles and copays. If you are in excellent health and rarely visit the doctor, a high-deductible plan may be your best option, as monthly premiums tend to be more affordable.

2. Negotiate your hospital bill.

You can lower the cost of hospital bills by trying to get a lower cost upfront or by negotiating with your provider or insurance company after you receive your bill. If you’re considering a planned procedure, such as a hip or knee replacement, shop around to determine the prices of hospital procedures in your area. This should give you an idea of what to expect on your bill – as well as evidence to show your hospital if the quoted price is much higher than at other hospitals.

You can also negotiate your bill after you receive the service. Ask the billing office at your hospital if you can get a reduced price by paying a lump sum, or offer to pay monthly installments. If this is too confusing for you, consider seeking the assistance of a medical bill advocate.

3. Get the best price on prescriptions.

If you take a brand-name medication, ask your doctor to prescribe the generic equivalent. On average, the cost of a generic drug is 80 to 85 percent lower than the brand-name equivalent, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and generics have been shown to work just as well as brand-name drugs. If you would rather go with the brand name, get a copy of your insurance company’s list of covered medications. Since medication prices can vary by brand, you may want to ask your doctor to prescribe a more affordable option from the list. You can also check the manufacturer’s website for discounts, as many offer coupons or discount cards on their medications.

Before filling your prescription, shop around at different pharmacies. Consider looking at prices through your insurance company’s mail-order pharmacy, or use websites like GoodRx.com to compare prices at your local pharmacies.

4. Use a flexible spending account or health savings account.

Depending on the type of insurance plan you have, you may be able to sign up for a flexible spending account or health savings account. Both allow you to put tax-deductible dollars into an account that can be used for out-of-pocket medical expenses such as copayments, deductibles and prescription medications. HSA funds roll over year-to-year, while FSA funds must be used by the end of the designated year or else you lose them. Both options can offer significant savings when it comes to tax time, especially if you use many health services, because contributions to these accounts lower your taxable income.

5. Check your bills.

Boston-based health care advocacy group The Access Project reports that up to 80 percent of patient medical bills contain errors. Start by asking for an itemized report if one is not already included with your bill. Make sure dates and times are correct: Does the bill charge you for three hours when you were in the room for only one and in the waiting room for the other two? Also examine room charges: Were you charged for pillows, and should those have been included in the overall room charge? Lastly, look over lab and radiology charges: Were you charged for two X-rays even though you had only one body part screened? If you are unsure about a charge, call your provider for clarification.

This story was originally published on U.S. News.

Cost cutting photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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