Healthcare can be an enormous expense that wreaks havoc on your finances. But a lack of knowledge of how their health benefits work is causing a disturbing number of Americans to forgo medical treatment rather than take care of themselves properly.

A frightening 27.2% of Americans say uncertainty over what their coverage entails leads them to avoid medical care, according to a recent Policygenius survey. And while higher earners are less likely to skimp on healthcare than their lower-earning counterparts, nearly 20% of workers earning at least $100,000 a year have passed on medical treatment, too.

If you've been neglecting your health because you're unsure of what benefits you're entitled to, it's imperative that you find a way to get at that information. Otherwise, you could end up compromising not only your health, but also your finances.

Doctor examining male patient

Image source: Getty Images.

Get schooled on your health benefits

Avoiding medical care is a dangerous move that could backfire rather than save you money. By steering clear of certain diagnostic procedures or preventive care measures, you could cause otherwise minor health problems to escalate, thereby harming yourself physically while creating a situation where those issues actually cost you more money than they need to.

A better bet? Figure out what health benefits your insurance plan entitles you to. If you get your health coverage through a plan sponsored by your employer, reach out to your human resources department for clarity on factors you're unsure about. Another option? Call the number on the back of your health insurance card, wait to speak to a live person, and ask about all the things you're unsure of, from the doctors you're allowed to see to the out-of-pocket costs you're responsible for.

Furthermore, if you don't get your health insurance through an employer, but instead buy it independently through, then there are a number of core benefits your plan is required to provide you with. These include:

  • Outpatient care
  • Preventive care
  • Pediatric services
  • Prescription medication coverage
  • Laboratory services
  • Emergency care
  • Mental health coverage
  • Coverage for substance abuse rehabilitation
  • Maternity and newborn care

If you've been holding off on receiving care in any of these areas, call your provider, understand exactly what's covered, and schedule the appointments you've been putting off.

Another thing: Read up on the basic terms associated with health insurance in general so that you better understand the costs associated with your coverage. Policygenius reports that less than one-third of the people it recently surveyed are able to correctly define the following key insurance terms:

  • Copay, which is the amount you pay when you see a doctor or fill a prescription.
  • Deductible, which is the amount of money your plan requires you to pay each year before it starts picking up the tab for the services you need (generally, some preventive care is excluded from that amount).
  • Premium, which is the monthly fee you pay for your insurance plan.

The more you know about your healthcare coverage, the less likely you'll be to pass up treatment or delay care that helps you in the long run. At the same time, set some money aside in the bank for healthcare costs so you're not forced to forgo care due to financial constraints. Establishing a fully loaded emergency fund is a good way to help ensure that you can cover medical bills as they arise, and you should always, at the very least, aim to sock away enough cash to pay your annual deductible.

At the same time, take advantage of a health savings account if you're eligible for one. That way, you'll get to allocate pre-tax earnings to medical expenses, which will save you money and make those bills easier to manage.