Healthcare is one of those expenses that's frustratingly unavoidable, but detrimentally expensive. It's so expensive, in fact, that medical debt is the No. 1 source of personal bankruptcy filings in the country. And new data from Fidelity drives home the point that Americans are worried about it -- an estimated 33% cite rising healthcare costs as a top financial concern going into 2020.
If you're anxious about an uptick in healthcare costs, there are a few things you can do to ease that worry -- and perhaps save yourself some money along the way.
1. Understand your health benefits
A study released by benefits exchange company Liazon revealed that roughly 48% of Americans don't understand their health benefits. And when it comes to health insurance, the things you don't know could cost you. For example, you might think you have out-of-network coverage when in reality, that's a bill you'll be forced to completely foot on your own. Or you might assume you're OK to see a specialist when, in fact, your plan requires a referral beforehand.
The better you understand your benefits, the less likely you'll be to make costly blunders that add to your healthcare expenses. If there's something about your health plan you don't understand, pick up the phone and speak to an agent about it. A little clarity is more than worth the 20 minutes of wait time you'll likely be subjected to.
2. Be vigilant about your health
It's often the case that minor health issues become major ones when they're left to sit and fester. An estimated 32% of workers have skipped medical appointments to avoid having to pay for them, while 21% have skipped diagnostic tests or procedures, reports Bank of America. But neglecting health problems rarely works out well. If anything, it tends to result in a scenario where the issue at hand escalates and costs you more money.
Keep in mind that certain diagnostic or laboratory tests may be available through your health plan at no cost to you as long as you stay in network. Furthermore, if there's a procedure or exam you feel you need but can't afford, talk to your provider. You never know when a medical office might be willing to negotiate if you can prove you're dealing with a financial hardship.
3. Save for healthcare costs efficiently
Ideally, you should have an emergency fund with money set aside for unplanned expenses, including medical bills. But it also pays to contribute money to a health savings account, or HSA, provided you're eligible.
To qualify for an HSA, you must be on a high-deductible health insurance plan. In 2020, that's defined as a deductible of $1,400 or more as an individual, or $2,800 or more as a family. The money you put into an HSA goes in tax-free, just like contributions to a traditional retirement savings plan like an IRA or 401(k). Then, you can withdraw funds from that account as needed to pay for near-term medical expenses, or carry your funds to future years, investing them for added growth all the while.
In fact, HSAs are triple tax-advantaged because contributions are made tax-free, investment growth is tax-free, and withdrawals are tax-free, provided they're used for qualified medical expenses. And since HSA funds don't expire, you get tons of flexibility.
It's natural to worry about healthcare costs going into the new year, especially if you're switching insurance plans and don't quite know what to expect. Even if you're keeping an existing plan, you may still be in store for some changes that ultimately cost you money. But if you make a point to understand your benefits, stay ahead of health issues, and capitalize on an HSA if allowed, you'll be less likely to feel the sting.