Researchers are rolling out new healthcare advances every day, but paying for these medical marvels can be quite a challenge for the average American. In 2016 alone, total healthcare expenses in the U.S. hit $3.35 trillion, which averages out to $10,345 per person (before insurance) -- and this number is expected to keep right on climbing.
However, taking the steps listed below can help you to beat the average and make your medical expenses far less of a burden.
1. Use your freebies
Health insurance policies often include free tools and services, including some you may not be aware of. For one thing, the Affordable Care Act requires insurance policies to fully cover preventative care, which includes not only your annual physical but also things like routine vaccinations, cancer screenings, and basic lab tests. Some health insurance plans provide other free services, such as Teledoc (a program that allows you to have an over-the-phone doctor's appointment), free gym memberships, or even free fitness trackers and other workout devices.
Discounts of various sorts are also quite common; for example, while my health insurance plan doesn't cover vision expenses, it does come with a 20% discount for vision care with participating providers. Check your health insurance plan website to see if you're missing out on such services, or call and ask a customer service representative to list your freebies.
2. Negotiate medical charges
Believe it or not, many doctors are perfectly willing to negotiate their prices with you. Indeed, many medical offices have policies to offer lower prices under certain circumstances, such as when insurance plans won't cover a particular procedure or when your policy leaves you with a huge chunk of the cost. Before getting any procedure done, find out how much the doctor will charge -- then ask if they can knock down the price a bit. You're most likely to get a deal from a doctor you know well, but it's worth asking even if it's your first time seeing that doctor. Try out the same negotiation techniques you'd use in other circumstances, including calling other physicians to see what they'd charge you for the same procedure. Even if you intend to stick with your own doctor, being able to say that Dr. Smith down the block would charge half as much may be enough to get you a special rate.
3. Look for alternatives
If the doctor won't budge on price, or if you can't afford the treatment even at a reduced rate, ask if there are any alternatives. Your doctor's recommendation is generally the best possible option, but there may be another option that's almost as good and far less expensive.
For example, any time your doctor prescribes a new drug, find out if said drug is available in generic form. If so, you'll want to get the generic version, which will have the same active ingredients as the brand-name version but will be much cheaper. If the drug is still under patent and there's no generic version, then ask if there's an alternative drug that is available in generic form. Because there are usually several treatment options for any given condition, your doctor may be able to come up with some alternatives that will be a whole lot less painful to your wallet.
And speaking of prescriptions...
4. Price-check several pharmacies
The price for any given prescription can vary widely from one pharmacy to another, even within the same geographic area. So before you fill a new script, call around your local pharmacies and find out how much each will charge you for that prescription. Using mail-order pharmacies can also save you a bundle.
If the prescription you need is expensive everywhere, ask your pharmacist if there are any discount programs or coupons available for it. These programs are usually free to join and can make an enormous difference in a medication's price. In my case, signing up for a free discount program reduced a prescription that I fill every month from over $60 to $18 and change. You usually can't combine such programs with insurance coverage, but in many cases, using the discount program will be cheaper than buying the drug using your insurance's co-pay rate.
It's horrible having to choose between getting a life-saving medical procedure or prescription and being able to pay the bills. And as healthcare expenses continue to rise, more and more people will likely be faced with this choice. That's why it's so important to proactively reduce your healthcare expenses -- indeed, doing so could literally save your life.