You probably don’t need anyone telling you that medical costs are eating up a greater and greater percentage of many people’s budgets.
But there are still some things you can do to reduce your medical expenses. Let’s go over some ways to save.
Here’s How to Save Money on Health Care
Table of Contents
- Use an HSA
- Use an FSA
- Use Apps to Comparison Shop Your Prescriptions
- Try a Telemedicine Visit
- Shop During Open Enrollment
- Hire a Billing Advocate
- Consider Medical Tourism
- Pay Cash for Medical Procedures
- Avoid the ER and Use Retail Options Instead
- Buy Your Eyeglasses Online
1. Use an HSA
A health savings account (HSA) lets you do two things: meet your health care needs right now and plan for the future.
An HSA starts with a high-deductible health insurance policy that offers a premium at a lower cost than traditional insurance. Then, taking the money you save in premiums versus a traditional plan, you can funnel that cash into a tax-free investment account.
“HSAs are really neat. They are both a tax-advantaged and tax-free savings account for medical expenses,” money expert Clark Howard says. “It is a great deal under the tax code.”
Of course, because of the way an HSA works, it’s an option that’s best for people who are disciplined about putting money aside in savings, who are fairly healthy and who rarely go to the doctor.
If you struggle to pay your monthly bills, have no savings or have a significant ongoing illness, an HSA probably isn’t the best choice for you.
2. Use an FSA
A flexible spending account (FSA) lets you pay for qualified out-of-pocket medical expenses using pre-tax dollars.
When you use an FSA, your employer automatically deducts money out of your gross pay each pay period. That effectively lowers your taxable income and keeps more money in your pocket every year.
“This is a way to take tax money back from Uncle Sam,” Clark says. “It’s like getting an automatic raise.”
However, if you do opt for an FSA, you’ve got to be sure to spend the money you tax defer each year — or you lose it!
3. Use Apps to Comparison Shop Your Prescriptions
Thanks to technology, it has become very easy to lower the cost of what you pay for prescription medications.
There are a variety of free apps you can try that promise to save you up to 80% off both prescription and generic medications:
As far as which one is best, we put all five to the test looking at the price of 15 popular medications, and there was one clear winner. See the results here.
While each of these services is free to use, many of them also offer paid membership tiers that could deliver additional savings. For example, GoodRx Gold promises savings of up to 90% on more than 1,000 popular medications for a monthly fee.
4. Try a Telemedicine Visit
With our nation’s new emphasis on social distancing, the time is right for telemedicine. Telemedicine lets you talk with a doctor from the comfort of your own home, using either your computer, smartphone or tablet.
You can expect to pay between $50 and $80 for a routine visit if you don’t use health insurance. Here are some leading providers:
Clark Howard recently had a routine follow-up visit with his doctor via telemedicine. For him, it worked out perfectly because there was no need to go to the doctor’s office in-person.
“He and I did a telemedicine visit,” Clark explains. “We had a choice: We could have either done a full video appointment or, in the case of my appointment, it was routine enough that we did a phone call. Basically, it was a by-appointment phone call and we were able to talk through the situation.”
5. Shop During Open Enrollment
Each year in November and December, you may have the opportunity to shop the health care exchanges through the federal government at HealthCare.gov.
In general, if you don’t get health coverage through your job or through a federal program like Medicare, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, you’re eligible for the exchanges.
You may even qualify for a tax credit to lower the cost if your estimated household income is between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level.
If you miss the end-of-the-year enrollment window, you may qualify for a special enrollment period if you’ve had certain life events. These include losing a job or having a child, among others.
You just need some basic info to get started shopping:
- ZIP code
- Details about your household, including marital status and number of dependents
- Your age and gender
- Age and gender of your dependents, if any
- Estimated household income for the year
Read our full guide to shopping on HealthCare.gov here.
6. Hire a Billing Advocate
According to some estimates, roughly eight in 10 hospital bills contain multiple errors. Hiring a medical billing advocate can save you the money and headache of fighting with the health care provider over something that you believe has been incorrectly billed.
You can visit Claims.org to locate billing advocates in about a dozen states. Expect to pay $100 or more an hour for their services, according to Consumer Reports, but hiring one could save you thousands of dollars. Anyone who is uninsured and paying retail for expensive medical services should go this route.
There’s also a nonprofit organization, the Patient Advocate Foundation, which offers free patient advocates for those facing debilitating illnesses. More info is available here.
7. Consider Medical Tourism
An estimated 1.4 million Americans went overseas in 2017 for radically discounted surgical procedures. Those patients are known as “medical tourists.”
If you decide to pursue the medical tourism route, be sure to vet all potential facilities and doctors carefully through the Joint Commission International. This global leader in health care accreditation will help you find accredited hospitals and doctors — many of whom have trained in the United States.
But you should also be aware of the potential downsides of medical tourism.
For example, there are fewer regulations around health care in some other countries. In addition, the legal system may differ considerably from what you’re used to at home, so bringing malpractice litigation could be difficult. Finally, the follow-up care you receive, if any, will likely have to be done remotely.
8. Pay Cash for Medical Procedures
If you’re looking to save money on medical bills, consider paying cash and shopping around for the lowest price on non-emergency medical procedures.
This involves calling the billing offices of a variety of providers and asking what the cash price is in your area.
“The reality is that cash is king,” Clark says. “Medical billing offices are already fatigued with all the insurance companies. If you do your homework and you shop services, providers and facilities, you can make a big impact on what kind of financial burden you’ll face down the road.”
The key is to do this shopping before you need the service. That way, you’ll have the most negotiating power!
9. Avoid the ER and Use Retail Options Instead
One of the most expensive places to get medical care is in the hospital emergency room. Fortunately, there’s a much better alternative if you need medical care when your doctor’s office isn’t open.
Nurse-in-a-box facilities — typically located in drug stores, discount stores or supermarkets — offer the services of a nurse practitioner who administers basic medical care. They’re usually open seven days a week for extended hours.
Another alternative to the ER is an urgent care facility. A typical urgent care visit costs between $100 and $200. The typical ER visit can run more than twice that amount — usually over $500 — according to Solv Health, an online medical appointment booking company.
10. Buy Your Eyeglasses Online
Clark has long bought his eyeglasses online at Zenni Optical. You can find men’s and women’s glasses starting at $6.95 with select styles on the higher end of the scale at $50. Children’s glasses begin at $10 and go up to nearly $30.
No matter which site you use, you’ll need to have your prescription and know your pupillary distance to order a pair of glasses online.
Your pupillary distance (PD) is the space between the center of your pupils, expressed in millimeters. Certain frames will not work with certain PDs because the center of the lenses will either be too wide or too narrow.
Get a full rundown of the shopping experience on Zenni Optical here.
The portion of your budget devoted to medical care is always on the rise. But there are ways to save money on health care!
Hopefully, these tips can help you stay out of medical debt. However, if you’re already overwhelmed with medical bills, you may want to see our article on How to Deal With Medical Debt.