8 Ways to Save on Your Health Care
Medical costs keep rising in the US. Here's how experts say you can save money on healthcare, now and in the long-term.
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Americans spend an average of $12,530 per year on healthcare, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That’s more than twice the average of other developed nations. And costs continue to rise at such an unsustainable rate that one survey found 41% of people with insurance avoid seeking medical care, even when they need it. This is especially problematic because whether it’s a small infection or an underlying chronic illness, delaying medical care often worsens existing health problems and increases the risks associated with preventable conditions.
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That’s not to say that people are simply overlooking their health. “Many families across the nation are forced to make difficult choices when it comes to their healthcare,” says Sherri Onyiego, MD, PhD, FAAFP. “It could come down to having to choose to pay a utility bill rather than refilling a crucial prescription for a chronic condition like hypertension or diabetes.”
Having health insurance is a good first step to avoiding sky-high medical bills—and here’s how to get (and make the most of) the right healthcare plan for your needs. But experts share additional guidance with The Healthy @Reader’s Digest on how you can save as much money as possible on healthcare.
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Get routine care
“Understand and use your [insurance] benefits to their fullest, especially preventive care,” Dr. Onyiego urges. Routine preventive care, like health check-ups and cancer screenings, can be life-saving and cost-saving. “Often, the earlier we can intervene and manage disease, the better the chance of limiting [costly] complications and getting better outcomes.”
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Save on prescriptions
Often, you can save money by asking your primary care provider or pharmacist about lower-cost generic options, Dr. Onyiego says. But it’s also checking out apps like GoodRx or SingleCare, free resources that compare drug prices and source discounts and coupons (as high as 80% off) available for your prescription.
Start an HSA
Planning ahead for long-term health needs with a health savings account (HSA) helps save you money, advises Dev Batra, MD, an interventional radiologist in Dallas, TX. This is because when you pay for qualified medical expenses out of your HSA, that money is tax-free.
For an individual, the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows you to contribute up to $3,650 into an HSA annually—so if you’re in the median tax bracket (24%), that means you save $876 in taxes per year. But instead of just holding it as cash, you can also invest your HSA funds into mutual funds and other options available to retirement savers, which means these savings can grow for longer-term healthcare needs. (You can still keep a “cash cushion” within your HSA to have money ready for short-term or unexpected medical expenses.)
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If you’re eligible, claim your Premium Tax Credit (PTC)
The PTC is a refundable credit available to help individuals and families pay for health insurance coverage, says Paul Sundin, CPA, a tax strategist, personal finance expert, and CEO of Emparion. This credit can be used to cover insurance premiums or to lower monthly insurance payments, and it can be “received in advance by having all payments sent directly to their insurance providers.”
To claim this credit, you must meet certain criteria, including:
- You’ve enrolled in a plan through the HealthCare.gov Marketplace
- Your income is between 100 to 400% of the federal poverty level (for an individual, this means an annual income of $13,590 to $54,360)
- You don’t have access to affordable coverage outside of the Marketplace, like through your employer
Know when to go to the doctor
You don’t want to avoid medical care, but it can be tricky to know if it’s worth going to the doctor (and incurring the associated costs) when you’re not feeling great. Today, many insurance providers, major hospitals, and university medical centers offer free “call-a-nurse” hotlines available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These services connect you with a trained healthcare professional to talk about a health question you have or problem you’re experiencing.
This can come in handy to know if you should schedule a doctor’s visit, if your symptoms are normal side effects of a medication you’re taking, or if you need reliable advice on self-care and home treatments.
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The average cost of a doctor’s visit (without health insurance) is about $287, according to Consumer Health Ratings. But Dr. Batra says that whether you’re uninsured or have limited coverage, telehealth resources are available that offer discounted doctor’s visits, lab services, and even medical treatment. Some highly-rated, affordable options to check out:
- LiveHealth: online appointments from $59
- GoodRx Care*: online appointments from $49
- Sesame Care*: online appointments from $39
*Offers membership that further discounts appointments.
Get a genetic test
Direct-to-consumer genetic tests like 23andMe are affordable ways to learn about certain health conditions that you may be at a higher risk for. These tests do have their limitations, and researchers argue that results are not as conclusive as the type of genetic testing you’d get in a hospital setting. (Read more here about the advantages and drawbacks of at-home genetic testing.)
But your results can inform proactive lifestyle changes and conversations with your doctor that can have cost-saving (and potentially life-saving) effects in the long run. For example, 23andMe can estimate your risk for developing chronic health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and kidney disease. For conditions like these, you can help manage your risk through lifestyle factors like nutrition, exercise, and quitting unhealthy habits.
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Make your current health a priority
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the old saying goes. And while easier said than done, Dr. Onyiego says that one of the best ways to keep your medical costs low, now and in the future, is to focus on making healthy choices in your daily life today.
Staying at a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, and not smoking are all practices that lower your risk for a huge range of health problems, she says, which means you avoid the costs of treatment.
Sherri Onyiego, MD, PhD, FAAFP
Dev Batra, MD, an interventional radiologist in Dallas, TX
Paul Sundin, CPA, a tax strategist, personal finance expert, and CEO of Emparion
PolicyGenius: "41% of Americans with health insurance have avoided medical care due to cost fears"
Consumer Halth Ratings: "Doctors' charges, physician prices, average cost, anesthesia"
Preventive Medicine Reports: "Delayed medical care and underlying health in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic: A cross-sectional study"
Genomics & Informatics: "Direct-to-consumer genetic testing: advantages and pitfalls"