Welcome to the “2-Minute Money Manager,” a short video feature answering money questions submitted by readers and viewers.
Today’s question is about medical expenses; specifically, ways you can lower them. There’s no “magic bullet” or a single, simple thing that will cut your bills in half. But by using a combination of actions, you can make a serious dent.
Watch the following video, and you’ll pick up some valuable info. Or, if you prefer, scroll down to read the full transcript and find out what I said.
You also can learn how to send in a question of your own below.
For more information, check out “14 Ways to Beat the High Cost of Medical Care” and “This Is How Much Health Care Now Costs Retirees.” You can also go to the search at the top of this page, put in the term “health care” and find plenty of information on just about everything relating to this topic.
Got a question of your own to ask? Scroll down past the transcript.
Don’t want to watch? Here’s what I said in the video
Hello, and welcome to your “2-Minute Money Manager.” I’m your host, Stacy Johnson, and this answer is brought to you by Money Talks News, serving up the best in personal finance news and advice since 1991.
Today’s question comes from Dick:
“The cost of medical expenses in this country is getting ridiculous. There must be something we can do to pay less without sacrificing our health. Ideas?”
OK, Dick, let’s talk about it.
First and foremost, Dick’s right. The health care industry in this country is an absolute disgrace. Insurance is practically unaffordable, medical bills are undecipherable, and we’re paying vastly more than anywhere else in the world for our health care. And in one recent study on quality, the U.S. ranked 29th.
It’s frustrating, and it’s unacceptable. And yet, here we are. So, I’m going to give you a rapid-fire list of things you can do to lower your health care costs. If you forget some — and you will — just go to Money Talks News and do a search for “health care.” There, you’ll find articles that will allow you to linger over this list.
1. Shop around
Check out websites like Healthcare Bluebook that help you determine fair prices for procedures and services. Then, pick up the phone and start calling around to learn what’s being charged in your area.
2. Stay in your network
While checking prices, make sure to stay within your insurance company’s network of providers. And if you’re doing something complicated, like surgery, make sure everyone who’s going to touch you is also in your network.
3. Skip the ER
If your medical issue is serious, obviously you don’t have a choice but to go to the ER. But if it’s not, try an urgent care center.
4. Double-check bills
According to the Medical Billing Advocates of America, there are a stupid number of errors on bills. Go over your bills, and if you don’t understand something, question it.
5. Stay healthy
Stay as healthy as possible, and that includes your teeth. Think you hate having your teeth cleaned? It’s a walk in the park compared to what’s going to happen if you don’t.
6. Consider medical tourism
Traveling to another country for medical care might seem extreme, but it’s an increasingly popular option, especially for elective stuff. Yes, you need to do additional due diligence. But as I just told you, the U.S. may have the most expensive health care, but it’s not always the best.
7. Save your receipts
Most medical and dental expenses are deductible. Granted, you have to spend more than 10% of your adjusted gross income to get a deduction, but what isn’t deductible on your federal return might be on your state return.
8. Inquire about over-the-counter medications
A few types of prescription medications have over-the-counter competitors. It’s worth asking your doctor or pharmacist if your prescriptions have such alternatives. You stand to save money and possibly save a doctor’s appointment.
9. Try generics
Generics are one of the best ways to save money on medications — as well as other products.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a website where you can find out if a generic is therapeutically equivalent to its brand-name version. Or, ask your doctor.
11. Use reputable online pharmacies
The U.S. pharmaceutical industry spends millions annually trying to convince you that everything you see online, especially from other countries, is poison. Not true. While you obviously need to be careful, there are reputable online and overseas pharmacies, as well as free services that can point you to them.
12. Check strength prices
Sometimes, the per-milligram cost of a medicine varies depending on the strength.
For example, a 50-milligram pill might be more money per milligram than a 100-milligram pill. So, if you take a 50-milligram dose of that pill each day, you could save money by taking half of a 100-milligram pill.
Ask your doctor whether your prescriptions can be safely split.
14. Hire a billing advocate
Did you get a giant, complicated bill? There are people out there who will go over it for you and find mistakes and overcharges.
They’re called medical billing advocates. You can find one at the Alliance of Claims Assistance Professionals website. You’ll pay for this service, but likely not as much as they’ll save you. No money? Try the Patient Advocate Foundation at PatientAdvocate.org.
15. Buy glasses online
Glasses online can be a fraction of the price. There’s where I get all my glasses. Next time you visit your eye doctor, leave with your prescription and your pupillary distance, but not overpriced frames.
16. Use an HSA
If you have a high-deductible health plan, you likely qualify for a health savings account, or HSA. Like an IRA, an HSA allows you to deduct contributions, up to $7,100 for families ($3,550 for individuals) in 2020. And when you take the money out, it’s tax-free as long as you use it for health care expenses.
17. Use an FSA
A flexible spending account (FSA) lets you pay out-of-pocket medical expenses using pre-tax dollars. As of 2020, you can contribute up to $2,750 annually, but if you don’t use it all, you can roll over only up to $500 to the following plan year.
18. See your doctor online
Thanks to the coronavirus, getting a medical checkup on your computer, smartphone or even telephone is gaining acceptance. Not only can these visits be cheaper, but they also mean not having to drive to an office and sit in a waiting room.
Well, Dick, there you go. Eighteen quick bites on reducing medical expenses. Want more info and links? Go to Money Talks News and do a search for “health care.”
Now, what about you? Got a question of your own to ask? Then do what Dick did: Simply hit “reply” to any Money Talks email newsletter and fire away. I can’t answer every question, but I do my best.
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I’m Stacy Johnson. See you here next time!
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I founded Money Talks News in 1991. I’m a CPA, and I’ve also earned licenses in stocks, commodities, options principal, mutual funds, life insurance, securities supervisor and real estate.