Article at a glance
Understanding how your health insurance works and using available resources are vital when you want to save on healthcare.
You can save on your prescriptions by taking advantage of generic options, coupons, and mail-order delivery.
Picking the right service at the right time is important when choosing between telemedicine, urgent care, and the emergency room.
Preventive care and wellness are key for staying healthy and keeping costs low.
There are likely resources and services in your area that can help you for little or no cost.
Double-check your insurance’s explanation of benefits and bills to make sure you’re paying for the care you receive.
With healthcare costs as high as they are today, it helps to know how to take advantage of ways to save. Finding affordable medical insurance that meets your needs is a good place to start. And, if you look at your healthcare from all angles, you may be surprised to see how many other ways it’s possible to trim the cost of good health. From connecting with local low-cost or free resources to tapping into your insurance plan’s wellness benefits, here are some ideas to help you reduce many of your medical expenses.
Understanding Insurance and In-Network Resources
Each insurance plan is different and may cover certain services while paying just a portion of other services. Many insurance companies ask you to pay a co-pay, a portion of the cost, while your insurance pays the rest. And, each year, most plans require you to reach a deductible — an amount you must pay before the insurance benefits apply. Take the time to read through your insurance benefits. When possible, contact your insurance company to understand what is and is not covered before you incur the cost of a medical service.
A network is a group of medical professionals, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and other providers that work with your health insurance to provide treatment at a discounted rate. When you stay in-network, you’ll know that your insurance will cover your costs and that those costs stay lower. If you receive treatment out of network, you’ll be responsible for more or all of the cost. Look at your health insurance card for a phone number or website where you can check if a specific provider is in your network. If you’re unsure whether a provider is in the network or not, contact your health insurance to verify or to find other options.
There can be exceptions for using services that are out of network, like a visit to an emergency room (ER) in another state. You’ll need to check with your insurance for coverage rates and responsibilities.
Save on Prescriptions
While your healthcare professionals always want what’s best for your health, don’t assume that your doctor or pharmacist will always prescribe you the least expensive medications. They often prescribe what they know will work and what they’re most familiar with, not the most cost-effective option. But there are ways to save on prescription costs.
Generic medications can often save on prescription costs. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for generic medications when you can. Generic medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and can cost 20–70% less than name-brand medications. Generic medications have the same active ingredients and are as equally effective as name-brand medications. They simply cost less because companies spend less on manufacturing and marketing generics.
Coupons and Savings Cards
Another way to save on prescription costs is to use coupons or savings cards. Many companies and programs offer coupons for specific prescription medications. Take some time to search online for your medication and see if there are coupons available from the manufacturer or elsewhere. Keep in mind that coupons may not always save you as much as your health insurance will. Ask your pharmacist for help in finding which option works best for you.
Another option is to use mail-order prescriptions. With mail-order prescriptions, your medications are conveniently delivered to you, often at a lower price. That’s because these companies don’t have to pay the overhead for a physical pharmacy. What’s more, they can often send you a 90-day supply, which not only helps cut costs but also saves you time. Mail-order is a helpful choice for those prescriptions that your take regularly.
Pick the Right Types of Care
When you need care, try to go for the right type of care at the right time. For example, going to an ER can be costly and time-consuming, but you may save if you’re able to go to urgent care instead. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell which resource to use for which issue. The deciding factors should be how serious the issue is and how quickly you need treatment. When in doubt, contact your doctor for advice.
Virtual appointments let you connect with a medical professional through a phone, computer, or mobile device. This is especially convenient if you have limited time or mobility. Telemedicine appointments are best used for non-urgent issues like prescription refills, colds, or bladder infections. And, telemedicine appointments are generally cheaper than in-person appointments.
Urgent care centers are ideal for minor injuries and non-life-threatening illnesses that need to be treated immediately. Many people go to urgent care for issues such as headaches, minor burns and injuries, or respiratory infections. The benefit of urgent care is that you’ll get immediate treatment, often more quickly and at a lower cost than the ER.
Emergency Room (ER)
The major difference between an ER and other treatment facilities is that ERs treat severe and life-threatening injuries and illnesses. They are also open 24 hours a day, unlike some urgent care centers. But you’ll receive comprehensive emergency care when you need it.
Use Preventive Care Benefits
Many health insurance plans will cover the cost of preventive care — including immunizations, annual exams, and screenings. This is because preventive care keeps you healthy and well, and that’s a win for everyone.
Be proactive in your care. This means getting your annual checkup, vaccinations, and screenings — allowing your care team to identify and address health issues before they become a problem. A notable example of preventive care is your yearly flu shot.
Investigate Your Wellness Program
Many health insurance plans offer wellness programs aimed at keeping you healthy and well. These programs can focus on improving how you eat, getting more exercise, or helping you quit smoking. Your insurance wellness program might even offer you a discount on things like a gym membership or health coaching.
Explore Free Resources
Depending on your area, you might have access to free healthcare resources. Some clinics, health centers, and programs offer free or low-cost resources and services for primary care, specialized care for women and children, or mental health and wellness. In fact, many Oak Street Health locations offer classes and programs to help keep you healthy and active. Contact your local Oak Street Health clinic to learn more. Take some time to get to know your local resources by searching online, talking to friends, or asking your doctor.
Review Your Bills
Once you’ve been treated, you’ll receive an explanation of benefits (EOB) letter that shows your charges, what your insurance paid, and what you owe. Take a few moments to go through your EOB to make sure that you have received all the services listed. Billing mistakes happen, but you don’t have to pay for those mistakes. If you’re unsure about the charges or have any questions, contact your service provider for more details. If you find you owe money, you can always try to negotiate the cost with your service provider or set up a low or interest-free payment plan.
The cost of healthcare can feel overwhelming, even for those who have an affordable health insurance plan. But there are ways to lower your healthcare costs if you know where to look. From choosing where and how you receive treatment to the types of medications you get, you can make informed decisions about ways to save while still receiving quality care. You can also be proactive about your health by taking advantage of preventive and wellness care to avoid costly health issues later on. Here are several tips to help you save on the cost of healthcare and get the most out of the resources available in your area.