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Saving Money on Your Medical Care

Simple, yet worthwhile ways to lower your medical costs.

I’m always looking for a good bargain and this month I’m thinking about how I might lower my family’s medical costs in 2013.  Why now? Well, it’s the time of the year for many people to start thinking about their medical insurance options.  Open enrollment for Medicare begins on October 15 and ends on December 7.  Separate from Medicare, most companies are now beginning to provide information on medical plan choices to their employees and retirees for 2013. 

There are a few things you can do now to help reduce your costs in 2013.  I’ll cover those first, and then I’ll provide suggestions for how to reduce your ongoing medical costs.

First, contribute to a Flexible Spending Account (FSA).  An FSA allows you to set aside tax-free money to pay for medical expenses.  The easiest way to estimate the amount you will need for the next year is to look at the current years’ expenses.  FSA dollars are only available for one calendar year, but many plans allow you a grace period through March 15 to use prior-year dollars, so it can pay to overestimate your needs!

Second, see if you’re eligible to set up a Healthcare Savings Account (HSA).  You aren’t able to contribute to one after signing up for Medicare, but any money still in the HSA can be used for expenses even once you are a Medicare member.  This money is tax-free, similar to FSA contributions.

Third, pay close attention to your medical needs.  Are you a single, healthy adult?  If so, it might make sense for you to participate in a high-deductible plan.  The premiums are lower and thus, if you don’t need to see a doctor for anything other than an annual physical, this could be the plan for you.  Conversely, if you have a large family with various medical issues, you might prefer to pay a higher premium for a plan that has lower deductibles (an HMO, for example).  It definitely pays to do research on all your options before making your final decision.  And here’s a warning – most enrollment periods are quite short, so you’ll need to do your homework quickly!

OK, now that you’ve chosen the health plan that is most optimal for your situation, what other things can you do to lower your medical costs? 

Did you know that some medical insurers include a basic eye exam in their benefits?  This means if you are a healthy person without any needs other than a basic eye exam (and maybe a pair of glasses), you can sometimes get pretty decent coverage through your medical plan – no additional vision coverage needed!  I even go one step further – I like to schedule my basic eye exam for the month before open enrollment on our medical coverage begins.  This way, I know whether I might need to add vision coverage for the following year.

Ask for a cash discount when paying a bill.  Or ask if you can have a discount for paying a bill immediately after receiving it.  I always do this and, although it isn’t as common as it was a few years back, the discount has been about 5-10%. 

Or, be proactive about your medical expenses.  Ask your doctor’s office upfront if they can give you any sort of discount, before you schedule an appointment.  If not, shop around (but don’t compromise your level of care!).   I even know of a
situation where a friend of mine took her grandmother to a specialist and because
her grandmother didn’t have medical insurance, my friend (the granddaughter) offered to pay her medical bills.  My friend explained the situation to a representative at the facility and they actually contacted her recently and told her they had located a foundation that would pay the bills for her!  Lesson – it never
hurts to ask!

Before going to a specialist, ask about alternative facilities.  It might cost less to see the physician in an outpatient facility rather than going to the hospital for
your appointment.   Additionally, confirm before your appointment that the doctor and facility are in-network.  If not, you might pay A LOT more for the same
service.  It might also help you to call your insurance company to find out if there are any other discounts available to you – sometimes insurers incent their members to use certain facilities due to their standards of quality and efficiency.

And, of course, don’t forget the more common ways to lower your medical costs – generic vs. name-brand drugs, mail-order drugs, convenience care facilities (think CVS Minute Clinic) vs. urgent care, etc. 

As always, I hope I’ve provided new information and helpful suggestions.  Please contact me if you’d like additional information.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Carolyn Van Dorn September 14, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Great info as always Wendy. My husband and I have a "catastrophic coverage" health care plan (10,000 deductible) and did open an HSA last year as you suggested then. I was amazed at what a difference it made at tax time...not to mention it actually earns a higher interest rate than our savings account. I'm glad you had said to shop around for the HSA account...I was surprised at the difference in fees and restrictions. Thanks again!

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