Healthcare expenses can be brutal, and they can pop up when we least expect them to. That's why setting funds aside for them is crucial -- to avoid financial issues or debt when they inevitably arise, and to ensure that we're not tempted to neglect our health because of financial concerns.

An estimated 31% of Americans have a health-related emergency fund, as per a new report by RxSaver by RetailMeNot. That way, they have money to cover the bills they incur when they get hurt or sick. At the same time, 47% of Americans have, in the past, chosen not to pay for prescriptions so they could afford other expenses.

If you're without a dedicated healthcare savings account, you're putting yourself in a position where you may feel compelled to compromise your wellbeing in an effort to manage your expenses. And that's a good way to cause yourself unnecessary harm.

Orange tablets in foil packs sit atop a scattered pile of U.S. currency.


Setting funds aside for healthcare

As a general rule, it's a good idea to establish an emergency fund with enough money to cover three to six months of living expenses. But if you want to make sure you have enough cash on hand to cover your healthcare bills, you may want to open a specific healthcare emergency fund along the lines of what 31% of Americans already have. The amount you put into that account can be based on your specific needs and concerns, but at the very least, you'd be wise to sock away the equivalent of your annual deductible.

Another option? Open a health savings account, or HSA, if you're eligible (you need a high-deductible health insurance plan to qualify). This year, you can contribute up to $3,550 to an HSA on your own behalf, or up to $7,100 on behalf of your family. And if you're 55 or older, you get a $1,000 catch-up contribution on top of whichever limits applies to you.

The great thing about HSAs is that they're triple tax-advantaged. The money you contribute goes in on a pre-tax basis, similar to the way popular retirement savings plans like traditional IRAs and 401(k)s work. Then, you can invest the funds you don't need for immediate healthcare expenses to grow your balance, and any gains you take in on your investments are yours tax-free. HSA withdrawals are also tax-free, provided they're used for qualified medical expenses.

HSA funds also don't expire, so there's never a fear of overfunding your account. If you've ever saved in a flexible spending account, or FSA, you'll appreciate this distinction, because FSA funds must be used up by the end of each given plan year, and as such, many FSA participants wind up scrambling to deplete their balances or actually forfeit money. With an HSA, that concern is not on the table.

Whether you opt to save for medical expenses by opening a healthcare-specific emergency fund, padding your regular emergency fund, or funding an HSA, be sure to set some money aside to take care of yourself. That way, you won't be tempted, or forced, to skimp on medical care when you need it.