There is no “give” in a mortgage or car payment – they are fixed expenses. You can’t do much to reduce many of your other bills either. But your healthcare dollar has a lot of flex in it.
Whether someone in your family has lost a job or money is tight for other reasons, here are some suggestions for cutting the cost of your health care (some recommendations assume you have healthcare coverage, whether through the employed spouse’s policy or COBRA):
1. Practice self-care first when feasible. Find out whether your health plan provides a 24-hour nurse line (most do). It can answer many questions about routine care, saving you a trip to the doctor. If this option is not available, search the Internet. Some reputable websites include www.WebMD.com, www.CDC.gov/az/, and www.MayoClinic.com.
2. Use your preventive care benefits. Many health plans now provide free preventive care, including screenings for breast, cervical and prostate cancer; routine physical exams; children’s immunizations; flu shots; colonoscopies; and more. Many also provide free preventive medications, such as for high blood pressure and cholesterol.
3. Use your health plan’s provider comparison tools. Many health plans provide tools for comparing prices of local doctors, hospitals and other facilities for a variety of procedures and for comparing drug prices at local pharmacies. They may also provide quality-of-outcomes data for some healthcare providers. You may be surprised how widely prices vary, even in the same community and for the same procedures or drugs.
4. Always ask for the least expensive options. Generic medications are just as good as brand names but much less expensive. In-network providers have negotiated discounts with your health plan. Urgent care clinics do many of the same things as emergency rooms at a fraction of the cost. Getting your medications through your health planâ€™s home delivery service is usually cheaper than local pharmacies.
5. Consider the timing of elective procedures. If you meet your annual deductible, you may want to have additional needed procedures or tests done before the end of the year.
6. Use a flexible spending account. A flexible spending account allows you to set aside pretax dollars for medical expenses. Essentially, whatever your top tax bracket, that is how much of a discount you are getting on healthcare costs, including medications, vision, dental, chiropractic and many other health-related costs. Note that you must use the funds in your account by the end of the plan year.
7. Choose a healthy lifestyle. Eat healthy. Don’t smoke. Exercise regularly. Don’t drink too much. Avoid dangerous sports and risky activities. Your lifestyle can pay off in more ways than one!