We all like to save a little money. From Black Friday deals to buy one, get one specials at the grocery store, trimming excess expenses always feels good.
But many people don’t realize there are lots of opportunities to stay healthy while cutting medical expenses. Here are seven ways you can trim your health care budget this year:
- Avoid the ER – The emergency room is the most expensive place to receive treatment and should only be used when you truly have an emergency such as excessive bleeding, a head injury or difficulty breathing. Urgent care and walk-in clinics can cost a fraction of trip to the ER. They’re ideal for treating conditions such as sprains, coughs, colds and flu-like symptoms, rashes, animal bites and minor broken bones like fingers and toes.
- Ask about Lower-Cost Medications – For some conditions, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, there may be several medications that work the same way but have drastically different prices, or different pharmacies may charge different prices for the same medication. Ask your doctor if there is a generic or lower-cost alternative to expensive brand name medications prescribed for you. Some pharmacies may offer certain generic medications at no cost. You also can save money with most insurers by ordering a 90-day supply of medications through the mail.
- Use Free Preventive Care Benefits – Because of the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans pay the full cost of several preventive care services including a yearly checkup with your primary care doctor, flu shots and other routine vaccinations, and blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol tests. Depending on your age, cancer screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies are also covered at no costs to you. Getting regular checkups is the good way to identify and address any possible medical issues before they become more severe (and more costly.)
- Shop Around – You shop around for other pricy items, so why not health care services? Your costs for a medical service may vary greatly depending on where it’s performed, which is why it’s important to shop around beforehand. For starters, make sure you always go to a doctor, facility or pharmacy that is in your insurance plan’s network. Next, investigate how much you will be responsible for at different locations. Florida Blue members can log into the member website or app to view a list of nearby facilities with quality and pricing information for services such as MRIs, common surgeries and office visits, and to compare drug prices at different pharmacies.
- Bring Your Test Results – Get copies of recent medical tests and bring them with you to visits with doctors other than one who ordered the tests. If you’ve had a test recently, such as lab work, an x- ray or other diagnostic scan, there is often no need to repeat it. Plus, if you have the test results with you, the doctor will be able to review them immediately rather than needing to set up another appointment after the test results are available.
- Save with an HSA – If you have a high-deductible health plan, take advantage of the tax benefits of a health savings account (HSA). Funds in an HSA can be used to pay for out-of- pocket medical expenses such as deductibles, copays, medications and vision and dental care—either now or in the future—for yourself, your spouse or your tax dependents. An HSA can save you money on taxes three ways. The money you contribute to the account is pre-tax (or tax deductible), it grows tax free and the money you withdraw from the account is also tax free as long as it goes towards a qualified medical expense. Often you can set up an HSA through your employer, and they will contribute money to the account. If that’s not an option, you also can set up an HSA on your own at a local bank or financial institution.
- Take Advantage of Discounts – Look for discounts, incentives and free programs from your employer or health plan. If you’re a non-tobacco user, you may find you’re eligible for a discount from your employer on your health plan. If you’re smoker who is looking to quit, many employers and health plans offer free assistance to help. Some programs offer discounts on gym memberships, weight-loss programs, fitness trackers and other health and wellness items. Florida Blue members can visit their member website and find more than 40 discounts available through Blue365.
Health care can be expensive, but you may save hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars this year if you just follow these seven suggestions.
Nelida Rivera is a registered nurse at the Florida Blue Center in Winter Haven where she teaches free health and wellness classes that are open to the public in addition to providing health coaching and assessments.