Healthcare costs are out of control. Premiums and co-pays are doubling, and deductibles are increasing at an alarming rate. Employers no longer guarantee a comprehensive benefit plan when you’re hired, forcing you to spend more money on healthcare, even though your wages remain the same.
Most people believe they can’t manage their medical expenses. “It’s all too hard to understand,” they think. Most of us just don’t know how to break down and challenge healthcare costs, so we accept the fees without protest and millions of Americans are declaring bankruptcy thanks to medical bills. In fact, Americans listed healthcare costs as the biggest financial burden, ahead of Social Security and higher education.
The time has come for consumers to take control. Healthcare is a business, and we should be able to act like smart, savvy and informed shoppers. Here are six insider secrets to hack your healthcare costs.
1. Your doctor makes more when you pay less.
Your doctors are drowning in hefty paperwork thanks to bureaucratic nonsense. Thirty percent of every insurer’s dollar on the individual marketplace goes towards administrative costs. Pay cash for your next visit and watch your doctor offer a major discount. Healthcare providers prefer to be paid upfront to avoid the expensive process of chasing after claims and unpaid medical bills and you’re only paying for your doctor’s time instead of the insurance company’s flat rate, which includes its own administrative costs as well.
2. Prescription pricing is volatile.
The same way prices vary across Amazon, Best Buy and Target, so do prescription costs at different pharmacies. Pharmacy pricing can be as volatile as the stock market. A pricing survey from Consumer Reports revealed that prescription drug prices can differ by as much as 10 times between pharmacies, even within the same city. So, the next time you fill a prescription, use one of the many online tools available like Lowest Med or SingleCare to compare prices or just ask at the counter “Can I get a better deal?” and watch yourself save.
3. Branded drugs aren’t better.
Whenever possible, ask your doctor for the generic version of your prescription -- they’re less expensive than brand-name drugs -- a lot less expensive. In fact, you can save up to 52 percent on the daily costs of your medications if you purchase generic drugs instead of branded ones. And don’t worry, the lower cost doesn’t mean the drug is less effective -- brand and generic drugs have the same standards of quality and clinical effectiveness.
4. See your doctor for less without leaving home.
Welcome to the 21st century. Talk with a board-certified, fully-credentialed physician through the phone or video chat and save money. Telehealth is a cost-effective alternative to seeing your doctor in-person for those minor health concerns like a cold or fever. You can pay between $40 and $49 for about 70 percent of the issues you schedule office visits for and save up to half of what it costs for an in-person check-up.
You may not even need to pay extra for telehealth. Everyone has access to this service either through their insurance company or with telehealth providers like American Well, so why waste money and time on an in-person doctor visit when you can improve your health at a lower cost in the comfort of your own home?
5. Price shop before paying your deductible.
Insurance doesn’t guarantee the cheapest price when you visit the doctor. In order to receive full benefits from the insurance company, you first have to meet your deductible, which could range between $1,000 to $5,000. As they continue to increase, you’re more likely to summit Mount Everest than reach this inflated, expensive and arbitrary number.
Shop for the best price and avoid your insurance’s inflated rates and convoluted billing process by paying cash. As the Wall Street Journal reports, when one patient needed an MRI, she could pay $1,100 out of pocket using her insurance, or just $600 if she self-paid in cash.
6. Dental and vision insurance aren’t worth it.
When you sign up for dental and vision insurance through your employer, an extra monthly fee is deducted from your paycheck, but since those services tend to be used infrequently, for low cost check-ups and cleanings, you’ll never get the value for what you pay for. Most people can avoid dental and vision insurance entirely. There’s a cheaper and more effective alternative -- pay for your dental and vision check-ups out-of-pocket.
For example, the cost of dental premiums can range up to $400 annually according to NADP estimates. However, if you only visit the dentist twice a year, and he charges you a flat fee of $100 if you pay in cash upfront, that’s $200 in savings per year. Vision insurance is very similar. You can also find better pricing on dental and vision networks by hitting up Google and doing some online research. Or you can negotiate your own prices if you’d prefer, but we recommend using online tools like SingleCare or Healthcare Bluebook as a point of reference.
Seriously, don’t make your way blindly through your medical expenses and wait until you receive a bill in the mail to find out how much that mole check-up or chest X-ray cost. Be a smart shopper and talk with your healthcare provider, asking if cash is an option for certain services or if there is a cheaper prescription. Healthcare should be more like a trip to the grocery store and less like a shot in the dark, so take control of your healthcare journey and watch your medical costs decrease dramatically alongside your stress levels.