10 Tips to Maximize Your High-Deductible Health Plan

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High-deductible health insurance plans can leave you with big out-of-pocket costs. Here are 10 ways to cut expenses.

As employers try to cut the costs of providing health insurance to workers, they’re offering more high-deductible health plans. The premiums are lower, but you’ll pay $1,000 or more — sometimes a lot more — out-of-pocket before the insurance coverage kicks in.

High deductibles also are the rule for many plans available on the federal and state health insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act.

How do you get the best use of this kind of coverage? Here are 10 tips:

1. Claim your freebies

Under the Affordable Care Act, certain preventive health services are available to you at no cost, even with a high-deductible policy. Make sure the doctor’s office or hospital accurately codes any such procedure you have. That way, the insurance company will know it’s one of the free services and will cover the cost.

The federal government offers a list of free procedures and screenings online.

Before you have a test or screening, check to make sure which costs are covered. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson found out the hard way that some of his annual physical examination was provided at no cost to him, but that much of the rest was not.

2. Ask for a discount

Tell your doctor’s office or the hospital that you have a high-deductible plan and ask if there’s a discount for paying cash. You may even find that a doctor will give you a considerable discount if she knows you have to cover the entire cost out-of-pocket.

If you can’t afford to pay, ask the doctor or hospital for a low- or no-interest installment plan. Some still offer them.

Needless to say, you should ask whether a less expensive, alternative treatment is available.

3. Save on medications

Ask your doctor if a generic exists for the drug he or she wants to prescribe. If so, don’t stop there — shop around. A few years ago, Consumer Reports found a 447 percent difference in the price when it surveyed stores for the cost of generic versions of five widely prescribed medications. Costco was the cheapest, CR said.

Also, see “10 Ways to Get Your Medications for Less.”

4. Compare prices of medical providers

Hospital prices across the country vary wildly for the same procedure. While cost shouldn’t be the sole basis for selecting a health care provider, it should be part of your process.

The New York Times has a tool that lets you see how prices at your local hospitals compare with the national average. The federal government also makes data available.

When you call around to compare prices, make sure you identify your insurance company so you’re quoted the rate it is charged. You don’t want to be quoted the so-called “chargemaster” rate normally used for people who don’t have insurance. The latter is likely much higher than the rate your insurance company has negotiated with the provider.

5. Stay in your network

Even if you’re paying out-of-pocket thanks to your deductible, you’ll typically pay the lower in-network rate if you stick with the health providers in your insurance plan’s network.

6. Open a health savings account

With qualifying high-deductible plans, the Internal Revenue Service allows you to create a health savings account — a savings or investment account where you can deposit pretax earnings to spend on health care.

Any money and interest earned that you don’t spend remains in the account year after year. Many employers kick in some money too.

For 2016, an individual can set aside $3,350 in an HSA, while a family can set aside $6,750. Increase the number by $1,000 if you’re 55 or older.

For 2017, the numbers remain mostly the same, except individuals will be able to contribute an extra $50.

7. Have a super-solid emergency fund

It’s asking for trouble to buy a high-deductible plan without having money at least equal to the deductible in a savings account or HSA.

That healthy emergency fund will keep you from racking up interest on the unpaid balance you owe to the local hospital or clinic, or prevent you from putting your bill on a high-interest credit card.

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