Reducing the cost of staying healthy

Operation Is a Game... Medical Expenses Shouldn't Be

by Jessica Graham


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No one wants to shell out for gall bladder surgery or weekly allergy shots, but some illnesses are unavoidable and rising medical costs are an unfortunate reality. While you can't prevent all medical expenses, you can do your best to contain them or, in some cases, even make the most of them.

1. Check your medical bills.

It's the most obvious tip of all, but it deserves attention because medical billing is where most mistakes happen and consequently where the greatest over-charging occurs. Because medical bills can be confusing, it's hard to know what to look for. Here are a few pointers:

If you have insurance, has your insurance company already been billed? Sometimes medical bills get sent to patients before the insurance company has been billed or before the insurance has paid out.

Similarly, does the medical bill match your insurance company's Explanation of Benefits (EOB)? If not, why is there a discrepancy?

If you paid a co-pay at the time of the office visit is that reflected on the bill?

Is your doctor's name and address accurately reflected on the bill? The same doctor can be in-network at one medical facility and out-of-network at another, which can make a big difference in your bill.

Are the services you're being billed for the ones you received?

2. Consider paying the cash rate, even if you have insurance.

This is counter-intuitive. What's the point of having insurance if you don't use it when you need it? But what's logical isn't always what's cost-effective. Many insurance policies have high annual deductibles. You pay a percentage (often 70% to 80%) of each medical services until you've met that deductible. If you haven't met your deductible and aren't likely to meet it, consider paying the "self-pay" or cash rate, which is heavily discounted.

Along the same lines, if you've met the in-network deductible but need to see an out-of-network doctor for a single visit, consider paying that one doctor in cash instead of using your insurance.

3. Use a Health Care Flexible Spending Account (FSA).

If your employer offers a Flexible Spending Account, use it. It's tax-free money. There are, however, a few things to keep in mind.

The amount of money you elect gets deducted from your paycheck and put into your FSA. To "spend" your contributions (either through an FSA credit card or reimbursement), you need to have qualifying medical expenses. Qualifying expenses include deductibles, copays, prescription drugs, glasses, contact lenses, braces, certain transportation costs for medical care, and many additional items.

Once you've set up an FSA, the money you contribute is "use it or lose it." This means that once you've contributed the money, the only way you can access it is through a qualifying expense. So when you're deciding on your contribution amount, you need to plan carefully. Typically you have 12 months to incur the expenses, and its funds can be used for you and your tax dependents.

Get free health insurance price comparisons for individuals and families.

4. Ask for samples.

Have you ever seen someone in the suit wheeling a case through your doctor's office? Those are often the pharmaceutical sales representatives. They are there to talk to your doctor about new and existing drugs on the market. They are also there to bring the doctor samples (and the free pens you see your doctor writing scripts with).

Any time your doctor changes your meds or suggests trying a different medication to see if it works better for you, this is your cue. Ask for samples!

5. Check for prescription coupons or rebates.

Certain medications, especially brand name drugs, occasionally offer coupons or rebates. To find out if your medication offers any discount savings, check the drug company's website or ask the pharmacist.

You can also look around your doctor's office. Many doctor's offices often have a free-standing rack in the waiting room or the exam rooms where they keep free medical literature and coupon and rebate pads. Depending on the type of doctor's office, you may also find free samples of lotions or shampoos there too.

6. Take advantage of OTC reward programs.

You probably haven't gotten a lollipop at the doctor's office since you were a kid, but you can still get rewarded for taking your pills. Some over-the-counter drugs offer incentive programs or perks such as magazine subscriptions or movie tickets to induce your continued purchase. If you have medication you routinely take, hang onto your receipt and the box's UPC until you check the website for a loyalty program.

May you spend, and save, in good health!

Reviewed May 2017


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