Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” In 2019, you might as well add healthcare costs to that list. Forbes Magazine recently analyzed just how much the average American is forking over to their medical providers compared to what they’re paying in taxes, and the results were shocking. It’s no wonder so many people are struggling to make ends meet. In 2018, it’s estimated that Americans spent an average of $3,600 on their medical expenses. By the year 2026, it’s expected to grow to more than $5,300 each.
The average U.S. family’s healthcare costs in 2018 amounted to roughly 15% of the national median household income. Experts are projecting this discrepancy to only get worse, creating panic in some as they wonder how they’ll afford medical care.
Even if you’re a young, healthy individual with relatively decent health insurance, there’s still no telling what could happen. As drug costs continue to rise and the landscape of the healthcare industry as a whole still remains complicated to navigate, it’s never too early to prepare for older age when doctor visits will be a must. Those who are currently battling a chronic condition or have children needing regular medical care may already feel concerned about how they’ll afford basic medical needs. Even beyond those circumstances, most people agree that healthcare is way too expensive, so let’s explore 10 tips that will help you spend less on your healthcare costs:
1. Price shop for medications
Secret shoppers at Consumer Reports conducted an experiment to see just how different the prices can be for prescription drugs within the same city. They called 150 pharmacies across six major metropolitan areas and inquired about the cash price for various medications—the results were shocking. Prices ranged anywhere from $66 up to $900 in some cases. The use of in-store discounts and opting for generic versions when possible also factored into their findings. If you’ve been prescribed a medication by your physician, it’s always wise to shop around to see where you can find the best deal. In some cases, it’s actually cheaper to pay a cash price than to go through your insurance.
2. Eliminate unecessary tests and follow ups
It’s easy to go along with everything your doctor recommends; after all, they are the professional. But all too often, some physicians order tests, require screenings, or even recommend procedures that might not be entirely necessary (at the moment). Most of the time, it will be to accommodate a patient’s current scenario and need for care, but at times, they could be premature follow ups or tests that could be put off until finances allow it. It’s always smart to make sure a test is pre-approved by your insurance company so you don’t get stuck with a giant bill, and don’t be afraid to probe a bit and ask if their recommendations are critical to your overall health.
3. Take advantage of local clinics
One of the more difficult healthcare expenses to plan for is dental work, as insurance plans often don’t cover much dental-related costs. In fact, estimates show that Americans spent $124 billion in 2016 on dental care alone. Routine cleanings and exams can be budgeted for ahead of time, but if you damage your teeth unexpectedly, have a cavity, or even worse, need an expensive root canal, it can be tough to come up with the money last-minute. The next time you’re due for a check-up, explore your local area to see if dental clinics offer free or low-cost cleanings. Some might even be able to perform minor procedures, saving you a good portion of money now and into the future.
4. Visit the right doctor
It can be difficult to know how to handle medical issues, especially when they come up unexpectedly. If you sprain your ankle at nine in the evening, does that warrant a trip to the emergency room or can you wait it out until the next day to see your primary care doctor? Sometimes, it’s not clear-cut who you should see and when, but keep in mind that an ER trip will typically be the most costly. Avoid these visits unless it’s absolutely necessary, but at the same time, don’t delay getting the critical care you need just to save some money. It’s best to consider the pros and cons of the situation before picking up the phone or hopping in the car.
5. Be upfront with your doctor about finances
Every so often you’ll come across stories of patients successfully negotiating medical bills, often asking for cash pay discounts or simply pleading with the accounts receivable department for modifications. However, sometimes it’s difficult for these people to make significant changes to your balance due, whereas your physician has an immense amount of control over coding your visit and the charges incurred. Hopefully, you have an honest relationship with your primary care provider and can confide in him or her if you’re financially struggling. There’s a good chance that you can be switched to a generic medication, can skip a voluntary test, or end up with a much smaller bill than you initially anticipated.
6. Re-evaluate your plan during open enrollment
Reading about healthcare plans isn’t exactly riveting, but that’s no reason to be uninformed about your coverage either. Each year, a report is conducted by the insurance company Aflac to determine people’s views on their benefits. Their 2017 findings were significant: nearly one third of people surveyed said they didn’t fully understand their insurance plan, and 55% of respondents said they wasted up to $750 each year because they didn’t enroll in the right kind of plan for their needs. Every year during open enrollment, take the time to read through your options and consult a professional if needed. You could end up saving a lot of money if you understand how your policy actually works.
7. Consider opening a flexible spending account
In addition to opting into a new insurance plan each year, many employers also give people the option of a flexible spending account during open enrollment. Not to be confused with a health savings account, an FSA acts like a debit card for your eligible medical expenses. Money is withheld from your paycheck on a pre-tax basis and allows your dollar to go that much further. This option is great when you know you’ll have predictable expenses throughout the year, like paying for braces or planning an upcoming surgery. While it may not lower your out of pocket costs at your provider’s office, the pre-tax benefits can add up over time.
8. Save when it comes to your sight
We may be able to push our dental cleanings to once a year instead of every six months, or let our physical at the primary care physician’s office take a backseat for a while, but there’s one element of our health that’s hard to ignore—our eyesight. If you have a vision correction of some kind, it’s nearly impossible to function without spending money on your sight. Individuals without vision insurance are sure to face immense costs for glasses, but there are ways to save. Try reusing your current frames for another year rather than buying the latest style. Shop around for new patient discounts on exams if you can, too.
9. Buy in bulk
Some patients are able to purchase 90 days of their prescription drugs at a time instead of the typical monthly amount. Of course, that option isn’t available to everyone, and you should consult with your doctor first before making that change. Mail order programs through Walgreens and other companies offer convenience and savings, but it may not be appropriate for your particular situation. If you’re considering trying to cut costs when it comes to medications, talk with your physician about whether your prescription can be modified for larger quantities to be ordered at once.
10. Use Slingshot Health
For some, the above recommendations just aren’t applicable or may not help enough when it comes to trying to save money. That’s where Slingshot Health comes in. Whether you have insurance or not, you can use the platform to save on regular or aesthetic care by directly connecting with providers, bidding for your price, and getting into the doctor’s office when you need it. With a wide range of options available, they’ve got something for everyone at prices that make sense.
Americans are projected to pay more and more each year for their healthcare unless something radically changes, so it’s wise to make adjustments now in an effort to save money down the line. No matter what your current medical situation might be, consider spending some time investigating the ways you can cut back on expenses and enjoy more peace of mind around your health.
About Slingshot Health
Slingshot Health is a health tech startup that brings top healthcare providers and patients together. Patients bid on the cost of services and healthcare providers accept bids based on availability. Slingshot Health is unique in that it is a mutual marketplace putting both patients and providers back in control. Visit us at slingshothealth.com.