Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 15
What a whale of a topic, right? Everyone from you to your parents to the members of Congress is trying to figure out how to cut costs on healthcare. On the political side of things, the debate will likely go on and on throughout our lifetime and beyond. On the personal side, thankfully there are a few strategies we can employ to reduce how much we spend on our own care.
Keep in mind that healthcare and health insurance are two different things. Today’s focus is on the cost of healthcare, but there are a few services you can take advantage of by carrying health insurance.
- Nurse Line – Check to see if your insurance provider offers one; most of the big names do. Blue Cross Blue Shield has a nurse line 24/7/365 to answer questions about wellness, prescription drugs, self-care/at-home treatments, allergies, and even your specific symptoms. And this service is free. So, if you’re not sure whether you should see a doctor or if you might be having an allergic reaction or whether you’re taking the right medication for your symptoms or if there’s a vitamin or supplement that might help with a genetic predisposition to a chronic disease or if you’re unsure as to how two medications might interact or if you’re curious about a weird pregnancy symptom, etc, etc, try the FREE nurse line first and possibly save yourself a trip to the doctor as well as the co-pay.
- Virtual Visits – If the nurse line doesn’t answer all your questions, try a virtual visit with one of the doctors with the insurance company. Major providers are now offering virtual appointments with doctors working for them. Your co-pay may even get reimbursed by your insurance provider if you use their own virtual medical platform. (Call to check your plan’s benefits.)
- Benefits Summary – Know before you go. Call your medical or dental provider before going in for a visit or procedure and ask for the specific codes that will be billed. Then, call your insurance company’s benefits line before going to your appointment to ask for the fees allowed in your specific area for each code and how much is covered by your plan. Don’t assume that the doctor’s or dentist’s office quote is exactly right. Also, keep in mind that if you’re seeing someone out of network, that doctor/dentist does not have to charge the contracted rate for your area, and you’d have to pay the difference between what that doc charges and what your insurance company has set as a maximum.
In addition to making the most of your insurance benefits, keep these tips in mind for future medical expenses:
- Over the Counter vs Rx – The assumption is often that over the counter drugs are cheaper than prescription and that generic is cheaper than name brand. But these are not always true assumptions. You have to ask and compare. My daughter, who has Crohn’s disease, is on a dual-med therapy that requires a folic acid supplement. I immediately decided that I would buy that over the counter, knowing I could get a full bottle for under $10. I assumed a prescription would be more. Then, I asked… and I was shocked! A full month of the supplement only cost us 47 cents! However, for her iron supplement, buying over the counter was half as much as the prescription. You have two resources for this comparison. You can call the insurance company nurse line to discuss the medication you’ve been prescribed to find out if there are generic or over the counter equivalents. Then, you can ask your pharmacist to price them all out for you. (Another option is GoodRx, but I’ve never tried that app.)
- Shop Around for Non-Urgent Procedures – Need an MRI, a hip replacement, or back surgery? You might find a drastic difference in price across town or across the country. There are now websites that allow you to shop around for the cost of specific procedures, and the variation in price may shock you into medical arbitrage. If you need a hip replacement in the Austin area, you can find prices ranging from $19,000 to $25,000, but if you’re willing to travel a short distance to Baton Rouge, LA, you can find the same procedure offered at half the price. Of course, you want to do your due diligence and make sure that the doctor/surgeon meets high standards and has positive reviews, but when you’re paying a 20%-50% co-insurance, that could amount to significant savings.
- Negotiate – Everything is negotiable, especially medical bills. You might even be able to use the info gathered above to talk your doctor and facility down in price for the procedure you need to schedule. Even if you weren’t able to negotiate a lower price in advance, you may be able to call the hospital or doctor’s office and negotiate a discount after the fact, especially if you can pay in full or put more than half down right away. I’ve heard that doing these negotiations on your bill before leaving the hospital or surgery center will get you the best results.
- Pay Cash – Sometimes you can get an even bigger discount when you pay out of pocket instead of going through an insurance claim.
- Care Credit – If you’re planning to put medical expenses on a credit card, ask your doctor’s office about care credit. They can call to get an authorization on your behalf, and you’ll often be given a 0% interest offer for a certain number of months. Be sure to set up auto-pay to cover the full amount of the bill before the promo period ends. You’ll also earn points for paying your bill each month, and you can trade those points in for gift cards to popular retailers. We’ve been paying down a colonoscopy, and we just cashed in on $200 worth of Home Depot gift cards.
I’m sure there are many other ways to save on medical costs, and I’d love to hear from you on what’s worked.
Today’s action step is to set up a health profile or journal for each member of your family. (If you already have one, take a quick review of it.) This health profile can be a simple binder or spiral notebook with plenty of space for printed doctors’ notes, bills/receipts for procedures, and your own notes on reactions to meds, treatments that have worked well, allergies, common symptoms to common illnesses, dates of illnesses or odd symptoms. Organize it in any way that makes sense to you and decide if you want a separate one for dental and vision care.
I was so glad I had kept dental records on my kids because I received a huge bill from our dentist after my eldest child got a filling. The insurance company denied the claim with the reasoning that the exact tooth had already been filled. I checked the dental records from our previous dentist and was able to determine that that tooth had never been filled. The last dental office had billed incorrectly.
This sounds like a lot of work, but having good records for each family member can save so much money in the long run, and it may help when trying to make tough decisions about proper treatments in the future.