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Here's How 1 in 5 Americans Avoid High Medical Costs -- and Why They're Putting Themselves in Danger

By Maurie Backman - Feb 3, 2018 at 7:18AM

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Are you employing this troublesome tactic?

The cost of nearly every common living expense has risen in recent years, and healthcare is no exception. Unfortunately, Americans are really feeling the pain. Not only is medical debt the No. 1 source of personal bankruptcy filings in the country, but more than 25% of adults are actively struggling to pay their healthcare bills. And sadly, that includes folks who actually have insurance.

It's no wonder, then, that so many Americans are taking steps to ease the burden. There's just one problem: A good 20% of adults are going about it the wrong way.

Adult male holding his head while talking to a doctor


In a recent study by Amino, 20% of Americans admitted that they avoid high medical costs by not going to the doctor. This tactic is employed by 56% of folks without insurance and by 27% of millennials. And that's a problem because as we all know, not seeing a doctor as necessary could result in costlier, more dangerous health issues down the line. If you're looking to lower your medical costs, here are a few ways to go about it -- without compromising your health in the process.

1. Find the right insurance plan

Though it may seem counterintuitive, keeping your insurance costs as low as possible won't necessarily save you money in the long run. That's because plans with lower premiums tend to come with higher deductibles, which means you could end up spending far more out of pocket all in. Furthermore, cheaper plans may not offer the same level of coverage as costlier plans, which means that what you save on premium costs, you end up paying elsewhere. That's why it pays to focus on finding the right insurance plan, rather than signing up for the least expensive option out there. Incidentally, maintaining good coverage is how 39% of Americans currently keep their healthcare costs to a minimum, so explore your options and see what various premium levels will buy you.

2. Understand your benefits

One of the easiest ways to lower your medical spending is to understand what sort of coverage you're entitled to for different services. This means figuring out which procedures or tests are paid for in full by your insurance company and which providers are considered in-network (keeping in mind that you'll generally pay considerably more for out-of-network physicians and facilities). If you're struggling to get a handle on your benefits, call your insurance company and speak to a live person. The 20 minutes or so you'll probably spend waiting on hold could save you hundreds of dollars by helping you make the right choices.

3. Be smart about prescription costs

If you're on medication, you can take certain steps to lower your related costs. For one thing, look into ordering 90-day supplies, as opposed to 30-day supplies. You'll often snag a discount, and in some cases, the cost of a 90-day batch might actually be lower than what you'll pay for a single month. Another thing you can do is ask your doctor to prescribe a generic version of the drug you're taking, if one exists. It's estimated that 90% of generic drug copayments are less than $20, compared to just 39% of brand-name copays.

4. Use tax-advantaged plans to pay for medical care

If you have no choice but to spend money on healthcare, you might as well get a tax break out of the deal. That means signing up for a flexible spending account, where you can contribute up to $2,650 a year for out-of-pocket medical costs. To really benefit from a flexible spending account, you'll need to do a good job of estimating your healthcare costs, as the funds you contribute go in on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. But if you contribute and spend the max and your effective tax rate is 25%, you'll save yourself $662. Another option you might look into is a health savings account, which you'll only be eligible for with a high-deductible plan. If you qualify, you can contribute up to $3,450 per year as an individual or $6,900 per year at the family level.

One final thing: It always pays to have money on hand to cover an unplanned medical emergency. This way, you'll be able to pay that bill right away, as opposed to accruing interest for paying it off over time. Additionally, the more cash you stash away, the less inclined you'll be to avoid the doctor when you're coughing up a lung or nursing a three-day fever. And that's reason enough to have that safety net in place.

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