Healthcare is a grueling expense for Americans of all ages, and new data from AccessOne highlights the fact that working adults on a whole aren't adequately prepared for it. An estimated 21% of millennials, 31% of Gen Xers, and 16% of baby boomers have delayed medical care because they couldn't afford it. Meanwhile, 19% of millennials, 18% of Gen Xers, and 17% of baby boomers have had to charge medical expenses on a credit card and then pay it off in the absence of having money immediately available to cover those bills.

Of course, the fact that healthcare costs have reached exorbitant levels for many Americans doesn't help matters. Among those surveyed by AccessOne, 60% said they or their family members have spent at least $1,000 on medical expenses in the past year, while 38% spent $2,500 or more. But the last thing you want to do is let healthcare costs drive you into debt, or force you to delay care and compromise your health in the process, so here are a couple of ways to avoid either fate.

Doctor pressing stethoscope against man's chest


1. Build or boost your emergency fund

It's estimated that 58% of U.S. adults have less than $1,000 available in savings. And that's problematic, because when unplanned medical expenses pop up, you need cash on hand to bail yourself out. If you don't have much of an emergency fund at present, work on beefing yours up. Ideally, you should have a minimum of three months of essential living expenses socked away in the bank to cover not just healthcare issues, but things like unplanned home repairs, automobile problems, or losses in income (such as if your hours were to get cut at work). If you're nowhere close, cut back on expenses in your budget to free up money, or even look at getting a second job temporarily to boost your cash reserves.

2. Sign up for a tax-advantaged healthcare savings plan

Though a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA) won't lower the amount you spend on healthcare, both accounts will let you set aside funds for medical bills in a tax-advantaged fashion. With an FSA, you can contribute funds that must be used up by the time your plan year concludes, but that money gets to go in tax-free, which means you shield a portion of your income from the IRS and save yourself a bundle in the process. Currently, you can contribute up to $2,700 to an FSA, but that figure is going up to $2,750 for 2020.

With an HSA, which you can also fund with pre-tax dollars, you don't need to use up your entire plan balance in a single year. HSA funds don't expire, so you can carry them as long as you'd like and use them to pay for future medical bills. And, you get to invest the money you don't need immediately for added tax-free growth.

To be eligible for an HSA, you must be on a high-deductible health plan, which, for 2019 purposes, means a deductible of $1,350 or more for individual coverage, or $2,700 or more for family coverage. Come 2020, you'll need an individual deductible of $1,400 or a family level deductible of $2,800 to qualify.

Annual contribution limits for HSAs are much higher than those of FSAs. For 2019, you can max out at $3,500 for individual coverage and $7,000 for family coverage, plus another $1,000 if you're 55 or older. For 2020, you can put in up to $3,550 as an individual, or up to $7,100 as a family, with older workers still getting that $1,000 catch-up. AccessOne reports that 47% of Americans currently have an individual deductible of $1,350 or more, or a family deductible of $2,700 or more, so it pays to see if you qualify to participate in an HSA.

The cost of healthcare shouldn't push you into debt or compromise your wellbeing. Boost your personal cash reserves and take advantages of an FSA or HSA to make those expenses just a bit more manageable.