The cost of medical care is a major concern for Americans of all ages and income levels. And unfortunately, financial constraints have caused 54% of Americans to do a very dangerous thing: delay medical treatment. In a new report from Earnin, 55% of U.S. adults have put off dental treatment, 43% have waited on eye care, and 30% have postponed annual exams.

The problem, of course, is that delaying medical treatment can cause otherwise minor issues to escalate, thereby not only compromising your health, but potentially increasing your out-of-pocket costs. Imagine you're bitten by a dog and figure you'll just bandage it up and deal with it later. If that wound gets infected, you could easily land in the ER, thereby subjecting yourself to a copayment that far exceeds what a regular doctor's office or walk-in clinic would charge.

Man in bed holding his head

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Since putting off medical care clearly isn't a smart move, a better bet is to take steps to lower your healthcare costs on a whole. Here are a few ways you can start.

1. Get a better insurance plan

When given the choice between a $400 monthly health insurance premium and a $600 one, it makes sense to opt for the former. But, actually, you're likely to find that less-expensive health insurance costs you in other ways. When you opt for a lower-cost plan, you subject yourself to higher deductible, a narrower range of coverage, and a smaller network of approved providers. All told, you could end up spending more out-of-pocket by getting the cheapest plan out there, so rather than choose a plan based on premium costs alone, do some research to understand what your total spending might look like under your various options.

2. Make sure you understand your health benefits

The more clear you are on what your insurance plan will and won't cover, the easier it'll be to keep your healthcare costs down. Unfortunately, it's estimated that only 52% of Americans actually understand their health benefits, which means nearly half of adults are missing out on key information that could save them money. If you're hazy on the details of your plan, go online or get on the phone with a representative and get your questions answered. Specifically, figure out what your coverage looks like for out-of-network providers, and make sure you're familiar with those specialty appointments and procedures that require referrals and preauthorization.

3. Be smart with prescriptions

Prescription drugs can be a huge expense, but you can minimize it by using generics over brand-name drugs, provided your doctor is on board. Generics tend to be considerably cheaper, and therefore your copays will generally be more manageable if you use them. Additionally, aim to order medications you take regularly in bulk. In some cases, you might pay less for a 90-day supply than you do for a 30-day refill. Finally, don't be shy about asking for medication samples when you visit your doctor. Medical offices get samples all the time, and getting a free month's supply of an expensive drug could put some serious money back in your pocket.

4. Learn to negotiate

Medical offices don't usually have a problem charging insurance companies for services, but charging individual patients is a different story. If you need a service or treatment that your health plan won't cover, be sure to let your doctor know that if you move forward, you'll be totally out of pocket. Chances are, your provider will work with you to make that bill more manageable. Along these lines, don't be afraid to try talking your doctor's office down if the price it's quoting for a treatment is outside of your budget. You have little to lose by negotiating, and at the very least, you might manage to come to an arrangement where you pay off that bill over time without penalty.

5. Examine your bills

The good folks who work in medical offices are capable of making mistakes just like the rest of us. That's why it's crucial to review your medical bills before paying them. Sometimes, all it takes is a minor coding error to turn a $200 procedure into a $1,200 one, and the last thing you want is to get stuck footing the bill for a service you didn't actually receive.

There's no question about it: Healthcare is expensive. Putting it off, however, generally isn't the answer. Rather than do that, take steps to lower your medical costs so that the next time an issue arises, you won't hesitate to jump in the car and go see the doctor.

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