20 Ways To Save On Health Care
Kiplinger's Personal Finance|May 2021
From maximizing insurance benefits to shopping for discounts to funding tax-advantaged accounts, these tips will lower your costs no matter how you get your care.
By Lisa Gerstner

Even after employers pick up a substantial amount of the cost, Americans spend thousands of dollars on health care annually. Workers who use employer health insurance plans pay an average of $1,243 a year in premiums for single coverage or $5,588 for family coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The average annual deductible is $1,644 for single coverage, and those with family coverage often have an overall deductible of at least $2,000. Annual out-of-pocket maximums may run several thousand dollars. To help relieve the pain of high health care costs, check out these 20 money savers.

MAXIMIZE YOUR BENEFITS

1 Stay in your health insurer’s network. If you visit a provider that doesn’t fall within your plan’s network, you’ll pay more for care. If you have a preferred provider organization (PPO) plan, you may receive some level of coverage for out-of-network care. But with a health maintenance organization (HMO) plan, you’ll likely pay the full cost. Use your insurer’s online tools to search for in-network providers.

Starting in 2022, by federal law insurers must cover at in-network rates “surprise” medical bills, which result when patients unknowingly get care from out-of-network providers in emergencies. You may also get a surprise bill if you visit an in-network facility and see a provider (say, a physician or anesthesiologist) who is not in-network. In the interim, you can appeal with your insurer any surprise bills that you receive. And many states have their own laws that provide some protection against surprise medical bills.

2 Take advantage of preventive-care services. Most health insurance plans must cover certain preventive services without charging you, even if you haven’t met your deductible. They include immunizations; depression and blood-pressure screenings; cholesterol and diabetes screenings for those of specified ages or who have certain risk factors; mammograms for women older than 40; and vision screenings for children. (For a full list, see www.healthcare.gov/coverage/ preventive-care-benefits.) Highdeductible health plans may cover certain treatments for chronic conditions, such as insulin for diabetes and statins for heart disease, before policyholders reach their deductible.

3 Tune in to telehealth. Consulting with clinicians by phone or video chat has grown by leaps and bounds during the pandemic. If your insurance plan partners with a vendor, such as Teladoc, that specializes in telehealth services, using it may cost you less than seeing your regular doctor, says Anne Brunson, of benefits administrator Maestro Health. If you virtually visit one of your usual care providers, you’ll often pay the same amount out of pocket that you would for an in office appointment, although some insurers may waive or lower your copayments for telehealth appointments.

4 Schedule appointments after you hit the deductible. If you meet your insurance deductible, squeeze in any appointments that make sense to complete before the plan year closes. Otherwise, you may be on the hook for the full cost when the deductible resets next year.

5 Don’t miss out on employer perks. Your employer may make contributions to your health savings account or flexible spending account on your behalf (some employers match your contribution or require you to participate in a wellness program to receive funds). Or you may have free access to smoking-cessation or weightmanagement programs. Participating in such programs may come with incentives, too, such as a reduction in your monthly premium.

GET A TAX BREAK

6 Contribute to a health savings account. If you have a qualifying high-deductible health plan, for 2021 you can put up to $3,600 in an HSA if you have self-only coverage or $7,200 if you have family coverage (plus $1,000 in catch-up contributions for those who are 55 and older). Pretax (or tax-deductible) money goes into the account, it grows tax-deferred, and you can withdraw the funds taxfree for eligible medical expenses.

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