Right now the future of our health care system is up in the air. It’s a confusing and frustrating time for, well, everyone.
The U.S. health care system is already one of the most expensive in the developed world. That cost difference widens when you don’t have insurance. For example, gastric bypass surgery in the U.S. will cost $2,000 with insurance compared to $24,000 without insurance.
It can be easy to feel as if you have very few options when the costs for something as essential as health care seems as if it’s out of your hands. But that’s not true. No matter who is in power or what legislation is passed, there are real steps you can take now to save money on your medical costs.
Here are some tips and advice as to how to lower your health care bills. Sometimes something as easy as asking a question can save you money.
1. Check the bill for mistakes
A whopping 80% of medical bills have at least one mistake. Duplicate charges, wrongly entered diagnoses and incorrect patient information are just a few of the common errors that can be found on a bill.
Note: You should always check for errors before paying your bill. It is much easier to pay a reduced bill upfront than it is to get a partial refund.
2. Ask, ask, ask
It helps to ask questions if you want to avoid surprise health care costs. Here are a few situations in which asking a question could make all the difference:
- When you’re making the appointment. Asking how much a procedure or visit will cost before you walk through the door will let you know whether you need to look into other health care providers. And while you’re on the phone, it might be a good idea to find out whether your primary doctor will do a telephone consultation for your particular situation, saving you the cost of an office visit.
- When you’re checking in. It may seem tedious to ask about costs and options a second time, but when it comes to your health care it doesn’t hurt to be thorough. Some places are understaffed, or one staff member may know a workaround another doesn’t.
- When your doctor is making a referral. There’s a big financial difference between seeing a doctor that is in your network versus seeing a doctor that is out of your network. Unfortunately, not every referral your physician makes will be in your network. It’s up to you to make sure they’re only referring you to doctors that are covered by your health insurance.
- When you’re having lab tests done. In the same way that you want to make sure that you’re referred to in-network doctors to avoid surprise bills, it might also be a good idea to double check the labs that are being used. Asking whether the lab is covered by your insurance could be the difference between paying nothing or paying a lot.
Pro tip: When it comes to larger procedures, such as surgeries, getting the total cost confirmed in writing beforehand will help you in the long run if the bill ends up being much higher than what you were originally told.
3. Go generic
Brand name drugs almost always cost more than generic. Luckily, there’s often a good chance that there is a generic version of your prescription. If the generic version is still out of your budget, it might be a good idea to check out discount drug providers such as GoodRx or BlinkHealth.
In her book, “American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back,” Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal points out it also helps to learn a little bit about the prescriptions you’re taking.
Many expensive prescription medicines are just reformulations of older versions of the same drugs creatively repatented, not improved. Pills that combine two medicines, extended release tablets, and creams and ointments are often available in older, less expensive forms that are equally effective. For example, you can save a lot of money if you’re willing to take two pills instead of one.
4. Shop around
It can be hard to save money if the hospital you’re using is the most expensive in the area. Research is your best friend when it comes to saving money on your medical costs. Hospitals and clinics differ vastly in price even if they’re only one mile apart (which is confusing, we know). Comparing the costs of health care providers —especially before any medical emergencies come up — will help you save money in the short-term and the long-term.
5. Take advantage of available resources
Using preventive measures with your health now can help you limit the amount of health problems you might have later. Fortunately, there are free health screenings and monitoring services at places such as CVS in your area. Knowing when these take place can be as easy as signing up for their email list.
When it comes to having lower medical costs, it’s all about being proactive. Because of the nature of the health care system and how many hospitals operate, it really is the little things that can end up costing you thousands in unexpected costs.
But the good news is that you have options. Whether you’re checking the medical bill for discrepancies, making sure that your health services and physicians are covered by your health insurance, using prescription coupons or doing research to help you know that you’re using the most cost-effective healthcare provider, there are ways to lower your health care costs.
Staying healthy shouldn’t be a stressful experience. It might take a little work but, with these tips, you’ll be on your way to having a little more money in your pocket.