Medical care is a burden for Americans of all ages, so much so that it's actually the No. 1 source of personal bankruptcy filings in the country. But fears of mile-high healthcare bills are causing a large chunk of Americans to do something harmful to not only their finances, but their well-being: skip out on medical care.
A good 18% of Americans aged 25 to 29 avoided a doctor visit in the past year due to cost, reports Care.com. The same holds true for 17% of those aged 30 to 44. And those folks risk feeling the pain in more ways than one.
The danger of delaying medical care
Avoiding doctor visits might seem like an appealing alternative to struggling with the bills involved. But by delaying healthcare, you're only hurting yourself -- and, most likely, your wallet.
Imagine you develop a cough that won't go away, but you're otherwise reasonably fine. You might think you'll ignore it and chalk it up to a nuisance you can just deal with. But what happens when that cough evolves into full-fledged pneumonia, and you land in the hospital for days because of it? Suddenly, rather than a $30 or $40 copayment, you could be on the hook for thousands of dollars in medical bills, and all because you failed to see a doctor who could've prescribed an antibiotic and nipped that issue in the bud.
That's why avoiding medical care to save money rarely pays off in the end. In the aforementioned example, your hospital stay most likely would've resulted in time off from work, too -- and possibly without pay. A better bet, therefore, is to take steps to lower your healthcare costs rather than plan on evading them completely.
Making your healthcare costs more manageable
If you're struggling to keep up with your medical costs, so much so that you're tempted to neglect your health altogether, there are a few things you can do about it. First, assess your insurance plan. It could be that a slightly higher premium buys you better coverage with more affordable deductibles and copays, so run some numbers to see if switching makes sense.
At the same time, make sure you fully understand your health benefits, because over 50% of Americans don't. Your plan, for example, might require you to get referrals to certain specialists, and if you fail to take that step, you could be on the hook for major bills. Sticking with in-network providers can also save you a bundle, so go that route unless there's a compelling reason not to.
Another thing: Don't be shy about negotiating with providers for services you're covering yourself. The amount a medical office charges an insurance company might differ from what it charges you as an individual, so speak up if you know you're bearing that burden. At the same time, always request a payment plan if you know you can't afford a given bill in full. Charging that expense on a credit card and paying it off over time will potentially cost you loads of money in interest, not to mention possibly damage your credit score.
Finally, get ahead of medical issues before they worsen. That means seeing your doctor for a well visit annually (most insurance plans provide this at no cost) and keeping yourself as healthy as you can through proper diet and exercise. If your employer has a wellness program, sign up to participate. You might get everything from fitness tips to nutritional advice, and all at no cost.
Sidestepping medical care is a move that might seem savvy at first, but is likely to backfire later. Rather than run that risk, make an effort to keep your healthcare costs more manageable and cut some expenses to boost your savings. This way, if you do rack up some bills, you'll have an easier time paying them off.