No matter your stage of life, there's a good chance healthcare constitutes one of your most significant expenses. And if you're struggling to keep up with it, you're not alone. Medical debt is actually the No. 1 source of personal bankruptcy filings in the country, and even folks with decent insurance often find themselves in way over their heads.
But while certain medical costs are indeed unavoidable, in many cases, we do have the power to lower our healthcare spending. Here are a few reasons why you might be paying more for medical care than necessary, and what you can do about it.
1. You're not buying prescriptions in bulk
If there are medications you take regularly, you'll generally come out way ahead by buying them in bulk rather than renewing month after month. In fact, in some cases, you may come to find that a 90-day supply of pills is actually cheaper than a 30-day supply. It pays to ask your provider for 90-day prescriptions whenever they're available, because they could save you not only money, but time.
2. You're paying for brand-name drugs
Some people are leery of generic drugs, but if you're willing to look past the name on the bottle, you could shave a huge chunk of money off of your prescription costs. An estimated 90% of generic drug copayments cost less than $20, whereas only 39% of brand-name drugs come with that low a copay, so if there's a generic version of the medication you take, be sure to ask your doctor for it.
3. You're not asking your provider for free medication samples
Doctors' offices get free drug samples all the time, so the next time your provider writes you a new prescription, it pays to ask for one yourself -- especially if you know the medication in question will come with a hefty copay. Saving yourself even a small amount of money here and there will go a long way over the course of a year.
4. You're seeing out-of-network providers
Most insurance companies either won't pay for out-of-network providers, or will pay at a much less generous rate than what you'd get for an in-network doctor. So unless there's a compelling reason for you to go out of network, don't. You can ask your insurance company for a list of in-network providers or access that information yourself on its website.
5. You're going to the ER for non-emergencies
It used to be that if you got sick or hurt outside of your doctor's regular office hours, your only choices were to suffer and wait, or head to the ER. These days, however, there's a abundance of urgent care clinics designed to tackle after-hour, non-emergency medical issues, like when your child starts running a fever at 8:00 p.m. on a Saturday night and the pediatrician isn't back in until Monday, or when you hurt your ankle and aren't sure if it's broken or not. Typically, a visit to an urgent care center will cost you the same amount as a specialist copay under your insurance plan, whereas an ER copay will generally be much higher. So if you're positive you don't have a life-threatening issue on your hands, opt for urgent care. You'll probably have a shorter wait to boot.
6. You're not negotiating non-covered services
It may come to be that you require a medical test or service that your insurance won't cover. If that's the case, it always pays to negotiate with your provider before absorbing the full cost. Medical offices will often give you a break if you're paying out of pocket, so don't hesitate to make it clear that you could use one.
7. You're not reviewing your medical bills thoroughly
Those statements you get from your providers or insurance company are probably the last thing you want to spend time reading -- but it's important to review them thoroughly nonetheless. Medical procedures are often coded incorrectly, which can cause your insurance company to pay less for claims or reject them outright, leaving you on the hook for more money. When you get a bill that's higher than expected, always question it. Call your insurance company and ask for an explanation of benefits to see if an error occurred, and on whose end (insurance company or provider). Sometimes, having a medical office resubmit a claim will spell the difference between having it covered or not.
8. You're not appealing your insurance company's denials
It's not unheard of for an insurer to refuse to pay for a specific medical service, thereby leaving you responsible for its entire cost. But rather than resign yourself to a whopping bill, try going through the appeals process with your insurance company first. Some employers even have health advocate services that can help you with this, but even if you have to go it alone, you shouldn't hesitate to put up a fight. The worst that will happen is that your appeal is denied, in which case you'll simply be back where you started.
Overpaying for healthcare is a good way to strain your budget and cause yourself needless stress. So don't do it. Avoid the above mistakes, and you'll have an easier time managing your medical expenses going forward.
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