17% of Americans Have Had to Skimp on Food to Pay for Healthcare

by Maurie Backman | Published on Nov. 8, 2021

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Talk about having to make tough choices.

Key points

  • Healthcare can be too expensive, even with health insurance.
  • A recent survey reveals that many Americans have had to cut back on food to cover medical costs.

Healthcare expenses can be a burden even for people with health insurance. People enrolled in plans with high deductibles can end up having to fork over a lot of money before their insurers start picking up the tab for their care. It's not surprising so many people routinely wind up with medical debt and have to make sacrifices to cover their healthcare expenses.

But some of those sacrifices may be pretty extreme. In a recent survey by HealthCareInsider.com, 17% of respondents say they've skipped paying for food so they could cover their healthcare costs. That's a really sad, unfortunate thing to have to do.

The importance of healthcare savings

It's one thing to cut back on something like entertainment to afford medical expenses (which 18% of survey respondents have done). But it's another thing to have to cut back on essentials.

Not only are Americans cutting back on food to pay for healthcare, but they're also skipping rent and mortgage payments to cover that cost. Those are difficult choices that could eventually leave them homeless, not to mention batter their credit scores.

It's for this reason that healthcare savings are so important. Here are a few different options to consider.

Regular savings accounts

You should have money in a regular savings account to cover emergencies, and some of that could include unplanned medical bills. Generally speaking, your emergency fund should have enough money to pay for at least three months of medical expenses. On top of that, you may want to save enough to cover the deductible your insurance plan imposes. For example, if that deductible is $1,400, that's what you'd aim to save.

You can also open a savings account that's dedicated to medical bills only. In that case, once again, you should aim to save the equivalent of your plan's deductible at a minimum.

Flexible spending accounts

With a flexible spending account (FSA), you have money deducted from your paychecks to spend on healthcare expenses. You get a tax break on your contributions, but then you must spend that money only on qualified medical expenses, and you must use it up by the time your plan year comes to an end.

For this reason, it's important to estimate your healthcare expenses for the year ahead of time, since you must sign up for an FSA before your plan year begins. A good bet is to base your FSA contribution on your medical expenses from the past two years.

Health savings accounts

Health savings accounts (HSAs) work similarly to FSAs, but they're limited to people with high-deductible health insurance plans. If you're not sure whether your plan qualifies, you can ask your benefits coordinator or call your insurance company to ask.

HSAs offer more flexibility than FSAs because you don't have to use your money within a certain time frame. In fact, HSA funds never expire, and the money you don't need for near-term medical bills can be invested for added growth.

Do your best to save for healthcare expenses

No one should have to give up food when medical expenses arise. If you've had to skip meals to pay for healthcare costs, do your best to build some savings. To do so, you may need to get a second job temporarily, but it's worth it if it means being able to eat and take care of your healthcare needs at the same time.

Also, don't hesitate to negotiate with your healthcare providers if you get stuck with large bills you can't cover without having to make an extreme sacrifice. You never know when a provider might cut you some slack by reducing your bill, giving you extra time to pay, or a combination of both.

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