Healthcare Costs Hurting Your Budget? Here's How to Lower Them

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 17, 2021 - First published on March 30, 2020

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An older woman sitting on a sunny park bench and reading the label on a prescription pill bottle.

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Here's how to spend less on medical care -- and keep more of your hard-earned money for yourself.

Here's how to spend less on medical care -- and keep more of your hard-earned money for yourself. 

Medical care is something we generally can't afford to skimp on -- but it can also be horrendously expensive. In fact, the average U.S. household spends $414 a month on healthcare, which is a lot of money for some people to swing. If medical bills have been busting your budget, the good news is that a few smart moves on your part could help to shrink them. Here are four relatively easy suggestions to start with. 

1. Make sure you understand your health benefits

Not understanding your health insurance plan's rules could cause you to incur extra costs needlessly. For example, your plan may require you to obtain a referral or preauthorization for certain specialists, tests, or procedures, and failing to go through the right channels could cause your insurer to refuse to pay for those services, leaving you on the hook for added bills. The same holds true about staying in-network -- seeing a provider your insurance company has approved could spell the difference between having a doctor's visit covered and being forced to pay the entire bill. If you're not sure how your health plan works, call the number on the back of your insurance card and run through your questions with a representative. And if you get health insurance through work, someone in your benefits department may be able to help as well. 

2. Order prescriptions wisely

Many health plans offer a mail order service that allows you to renew your prescription medications in bulk. Not only is this convenient, but in many cases it can save you a lot of money, because you could pay as much for a three-month medication supply as you would for a single month's worth. Another thing: Ask your doctor to prescribe a generic drug over a brand-name drug if that option exists. Doing so could lower your copayments substantially. 

3. Always review your medical bills

Medical bills are hardly exciting to read, but paying close attention to them could help you lower your healthcare spending. It's estimated that anywhere from 30% to 80% of medical bills contain errors, and mistakes are particularly rampant among hospital bills and those for more complex medical procedures. By taking the time to review those bills carefully, you may end up spotting errors that, once corrected, will leave you on the hook for less. For example, you might accidentally get billed for general anesthesia related to a procedure you received, when in reality, you got only local anesthesia. The cost difference there could be huge. 

4. Avoid the ER unless your health is really in danger

Many people rush to the emergency room for issues like cuts, sprains, or minor bone breaks. But if the health problem you're experiencing isn't life-threatening, you may be better off going to an urgent care center instead. Not only are you likely to minimize your wait time, but you may be subject to a copay that mimics what you'd pay for a regular doctor -- whereas your ER copay could be far more substantial. 

The less money you spend on healthcare, the more you'll have left over to boost your savings or cover your general living expenses. If you've been paying a lot for medical care, try employing these fairly painless tips -- they could save you a nice chunk of cash over time.

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