Having to come up with money to pay for healthcare is largely an American problem. In 2017, the average American spent $10,224 on healthcare compared to an average of $5,280 for the citizens of other “first world” nations such as Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom. Sadly, this figure will only continue to rise.
Being self-employed, I’ve also struggled with keeping my healthcare costs under control. Even if you’re an employee and have employer-sponsored health insurance, you are probably feeling the squeeze, too. In 2018, the average employer paid 82% of their employees’ health insurance premium, which means the employee had to pick up the remaining 18%. Not only that, you most likely have to contribute in terms of a deductible, copayments and coinsurance, as well as a portion of any prescriptions.
Despite this depressing news, there are ways to reduce your personal healthcare costs. Here are four that can save you thousands in the long run:
Pair an HDHP (high-deductibe healthcare plan) with an HSA (health savings account)
An HSA is a beautiful thing: Any contributions are tax-deductible, withdrawals are tax-free (for qualified medical expenses) and the earnings can also grow tax-free. There is no other type of savings or investment account that gives you all three of these benefits. You can save thousands in taxes! The funds are used to pay for qualifying medical expenses and roll over to the next year if not used.
To have an HSA, you must have and HDHP (high-deductible healthcare plan). But not all HDHP’s qualify for an HSA—the rules are set each year by the IRS—so you have to ask. If you’re an employee and your employer offers a high-deductible healthcare plan, ask your benefits rep if it qualifies for an HSA. (Some employers will even contribute to the employee’s HSA.) If you’re self-employed, call your insurance company to find out about their HSA-qualifying HDHP’s. If an HDHP doesn’t qualify for an HSA, it’s probably not worth it unless you’re young and healthy.
Use discount Rx cards and apps
Rx apps can save you up to 80% on prescriptions. These apps can compare prices of local pharmacies for the same drug, offer coupons, price matching and more. Each app has it’s own method for saving you money but all of the popular ones work with major pharmacies, such as the ones at Walmart, Costco, Kroger, Safeway, Walgreens, CVS and more. Look for ones that have at least 500,000 downloads and a four-star rating in your phone’s app store, such as GoodRx and Blink Health Rx. A friend of mine recently used the GoodRx app to locate the pharmacy in her area that had the cheapest price for a prescription she needed. She was able to save $18 just by doing a quick search in the app.
There are also discount prescription cards. GoodRx offers a savings card, as does organizations such as AARP and AAA. Other cards include the USA MedicalCard, Discounted Prescriptions Network and America’s Drug Card. Also, each state has it’s own free statewide prescription assistance program (PAP). Simply search for this program name, along with the name of your state, to find your particular state’s website where you can print out your free card.
Ask the medical provider or pharmacy for a discount
You can sometimes snag yourself a discount simply by asking. Once, when I didn’t have health insurance, I became ill and spent 8 hours in a hospital. My initial bill for the emergency care was around $1400. I paid $450 of it at the time of the visit and later received a bill for the remaining balance. When I called to pay the rest, I asked if they could give me a discount. To my surprise, the customer service rep told me she could take $400 off the remaining balance if I would pay the rest ($550) immediately. I happily gave her my credit card number.
I also once saved $40 on a prescription from Walgreen’s by telling the pharmacist that I thought the medication I was picking up was overpriced. She took a moment to search in her system and told me she could offer it to me for less.
Some providers will offer a discount for cash or if you’re facing financial hardship. Always ask in advance, before the procedure, if possible. Many medical providers have hardship programs for individuals who need important insurance procedures but lack enough insurance coverage. For less expensive, less urgent care, you may be able to get a discount for paying in cash. Be sure to ask any type of medical provider, including your eye doctor and dentist. If they agree, get it in writing beforehand.
Consider natural or over-the-counter remedies
You can save on prescriptions, coinsurance, copayments and deductibles simply by treating minor ailments at home with natural or over-the-counter remedies. Some conditions absolutely require the expertise of a doctor so the advice below is only my opinion, which is based on personal experiences, research as a former personal trainer and wellness coach, as well as my conversations with family and friends. It will ultimately be up to you to decide whether you should see your doctor or other qualified medical professional. While there are too many conditions and their inexpensive remedies to list in this blog post, here are a few of my favorites:
- Probiotics and Pepto-Bismol for the prevention and treatment of minor stomach ailments. Both can be miracle workers for minor stomach flu or indigestion.
- Tea tree oil for skin conditions such as ringworm and eczema: I once contracted ringworm from a gym’s swimming pool. I tried an over-the-counter cream and even went to a minute clinic and got a prescription. Neither of these worked. Then I tried tea tree oil soap. The ringworm was gone in days. It can also help with certain chronic skin conditions such as eczema.
- Magnesium for high blood pressure: I have a relative who was on high blood pressure medication for 30 years, yet her blood pressure was still high. I mentioned magnesium to her. She started taking a small amount each night before bed. Within 3 weeks, her blood pressure dropped to normal levels and, after consulting her doctor, she was able to cut back on her medication, which has saved her roughly $1,020 a year.
- Arnica oil and heating pads for aches and pains: I have another relative who regularly suffers from soreness and muscle pain. Two different doctors wanted to put her on expensive medication. She decided instead to try arnica oil and to start using a heating pad. She now swears by this combo—all for a very inexpensive price with no side effects.
- Airborne or an equivalent for the prevention and treatment of colds and flu: If you feel a cold or the flu coming on, or are going to be around people who are sick, then I highly recommend loading up on an immune booster. The Walgreen’s store brand version of Airborne is one of my favorites and I have used it many times to ward off an oncoming cold. There are similar brands such as Emergen-C which perform the same trick. This can save you a trip to the doctor or even the emergency room.
- Good old fashioned sleep and exercise for overall mental and physical health: No matter what ails you, more sleep will most likely help (and you’re probably not getting enough). Also, gentle exercise, such as yoga or walking, will help with mental issues such as stress and will also help you sleep better. Sleep is the body’s chance to repair and heal itself. Expect more trips to the doctor if you’re continuously getting less than 8 hours and not getting at least 90 minutes of gentle exercise a week.
For more ways to stay healthy, check out 5 Tips to Protect Your Number One Asset: Your Health.
There are more ways to save on healthcare (like choosing the right doctor) but I’ll save that for another post. These are four that have made a huge difference in my and my family members’ healthcare costs and I hope they can help you, too. And then, hopefully, with the money you save on healthcare, you can take a trip to Tahiti where you can sit on the beach, your favorite drink in hand and the ocean waves out in front of you:)
Some useful links you might want to check out:
For more information on HSA’s:
For more information on prescription drug discount cards:
For more information on negotiating lower healthcare costs: