According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), healthcare costs in the U.S. are twice as much as other developed countries. Yet our life expectancy is shorter and the rate of maternal and infant death is higher.
Until our elected officials step up to the plate and regulate prices, it’s up to us to fend for ourselves.
Here are 8 simple ways to save big money on your healthcare.
1. Learn How To Read Your Medical Bills
Medical bills are notorious for being confusing and, in my opinion, infuriating. They are filled with indecipherable codes, cryptic terms and vague descriptions that make absolutely no sense. That’s why millions of Americans simply throw their hands up when it comes to medical bills. They either give up trying to figure them out and just pay or they wind up getting harassed by collection agencies. Some patients are even getting sued, and having their wages garnished, by greedy, shameless hospitals (both profit and so-called ‘non-profit’) and medical centers.
To make matters worse, an estimated 90% of medical bills contain errors. That’s why it’s so important to understand how to read them. This way, you’ll know if something isn’t right.
If you find mistakes on your bill, immediately dispute the charges in writing. Never pay a bill that’s not itemized. If yours isn’t, call the billing department and ask for a detailed statement. It should include all the services you had along with prices and service codes. If something doesn’t add up, ask for an explanation.
Sound confusing? It is. But you can click here to get a free guide that will help you better understand your medical bills.
2. Negotiate Prices and Ask For Discounts
Providers and hospitals can charge any amount they want for medical products and services. Seriously. Figures are simply plucked out of thin air and we’re expected to pay up, no questions asked.
The U.S. government does absolutely nothing to regulate prices or promote transparency. That’s why one hospital may charge $12,000 for knee surgery while another charges $60,000. Or the reason a band-aid can cost $60.
If you see a charge on your bill that seems over-the-top (and most are), call the billing department and ask for a price reduction. Some providers and hospitals offer ‘prompt-payment’ discounts. If you can’t negotiate a lower price, ask to set up a no-interest payment plan.
The same goes for lab work. I had a very expensive genetic blood test done when I was pregnant. After it was sent to the lab for processing, my insurance decided not to cover it (after my doctor assured me they would). A few weeks later I got a bill for $1500 (for one blood test!). When I called the lab directly to ask for a discount, they knocked the price down to $150.
Before you call anyone, check out the prices of medical services in your area using Healthcare Bluebook or Fair Health. Use the figures listed on these sites when negotiating your bill. You can even try working out a ‘deal’ on prices before any planned hospital admissions, surgeries, tests or procedures.
Some hospitals and providers will stubbornly refuse to settle on a fair price and will send unpaid bills straight to collections (or sue you as I mentioned above). It’s not fair but it’s the sad reality of our corrupt healthcare system.
3. Understand Your Health Insurance Plan
Health insurance plans are even more confusing than medical bills. High deductibles, low deductibles, coinsurance, copays, in-network, out-of-network, maybe-in-maybe-out-of-network, out-of-pocket maximums, denied claims, balance-billing. It makes my head spin like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. Truth be told, the folks who came up with these convoluted plans probably don’t understand them either.
An aim of the Affordable Care Act (a misnomer if I’ve ever heard one) was to mandate plain-language descriptions of insurance plans so people would understand exactly what they were getting for their money. However, an article in Healthcare Finance reports that the majority of Americans are still unaware of the basic benefits of plans on the healthcare exchange. And most people don’t really understand or are completely unaware of the confusing details of the law itself. Not a huge surprise there.
Nonetheless, do your best to understand your health plan’s offerings and shortcomings. If you can’t figure out the specifics of your out-of-pocket obligations, call member services and ask lots of questions. This may help you avoid unnecessary expenses and incorrectly denied claims.
4. Always (Always) Appeal Denied Claims
Speaking of incorrectly denied claims. If your health insurance refuses to pay for a medical service, always appeal that decision. Your chances of winning are not half bad. According to Peter Kongstvedt, a senior health policy faculty member at George Mason University, most denied claims are due to administrative errors. Mistakes can, and often do, happen at any level in the billing process whether it be on the provider’s end or the insurer’s end.
If you have Medicare you can visit their website to learn how to appeal a denial. If you have Medicaid, click here for an overview of the process. If you have private insurance, the appeals process is usually outlined on their website or you can call the member services number listed on your card.
And remember, you are already paying your insurance company a boatload of cash in the form of premiums, deductibles, copays, and coinsurance. Insurers are raking in billions of dollars a year in profits. By denying claims, they are effectively padding their already over-bloated pockets. Don’t be afraid to appeal!
5. Consider FSAs and HSAs
Many employers offer flexible spending accounts (FSA) to help offset some of the costs of your medical care. You can contribute pre-tax dollars to your FSA and use the money to pay for qualified medical expenses such as copays, contact lenses and even acupuncture. The downside is that you’ll lose the money you put towards your FSA if you don’t use it within a specified timeframe.
If you have a high-deductible health insurance plan through your employer, you may be able to contribute pre-tax dollars to a health savings plan (HSA). Similar to an FSA, you can use your HSA to pay for qualified healthcare expenses. I used mine to purchase sunscreen! Unlike an FSA, your balance rolls over from one year to the next. And that’s a good thing.
6. Pay Less for Your Medications
We Americans pay more for our medications than any other developed country.
Fortunately, there are ways you can save on your prescriptions.
- Always ask your provider to prescribe generics when possible. They are almost always cheaper.
- When you have your prescription, be sure to compare drug prices on GoodRx.com. You’ll be surprised at the differences from one pharmacy to the next.
- Check out prescription assistance programs such as RxAssist or NeedyMeds.
Click here to discover even more ways to save money on your medications.
7. Avoid Unnecessary Tests and Procedures
Every year in America, $200 billion is spent on unnecessary medical tests and treatments. Not only are they costly, but they may also be harmful or lead to medical errors. Chances are, you’ve had tests, treatments or procedures that you didn’t really need.
8. Consider Alternatives to Emergency Rooms
Millions of Americans go to emergency rooms for the bulk of their care. In fact, almost half of the medical care in America is delivered in ERs. This is a staggering statistic.
The out-of-pocket costs of going to an emergency room are typically much higher than they would be if you received care at any other provider. If you have a minor illness or injury, such as a sore throat or a cut on your finger, consider seeking care somewhere other than an ER.
Here are a few alternatives to consider:
An added bonus of avoiding ERs if you can is that you may also dodge getting hit with ‘surprise bills.’
Saving money on healthcare can be a lot of work! But it’s worth it. If you follow the tips I’ve outlined here, you could save hundreds (maybe even thousands) of dollars on your medical care. And I hope you do.
Have a question for me? Or just want to share your experiences with the healthcare system? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’d love to hear from you!