6 Ways to Pay Less for Healthcare

6 Ways to Pay Less for Healthcare
September 30 01:00 2015

6 Ways to Pay Less for Healthcare

Health care costs for consumers show no sign of abating. The annual premium cost for employer-sponsored insurance last year increased 4 percent to $6,251 for individuals and more than $17,500 for families, according to a new report from Kaiser Family Foundation.

While medical bills have become one of the biggest expenses faced by today’s American families, there are some ways to reduce the bite it takes out of your monthly budget. Follow these steps to reduce your health care costs:

Take better care of yourself. If the idea of living longer and happier isn’t enough to get you to quit smoking or start exercising, consider that doing so will significantly reduce your health care costs over time.Taking care of yourself also means getting to the doctor on a regular basis to catch any potential ailments before they become more serious. Your insurance must cover preventative care, which includes your annual physical and many routine screenings.
Sign up for your company’s wellness program. Nearly eight in 10 large companies now offer wellness programs as part of their employee benefit packages, with many offering cash incentives or premium reductions to workers who participate in things like biometric screenings, health risk assessments or physical activity programs. Last year, companies spent nearly $700 per employee on wellness-based incentives , according to the National Business Group on Health.
Pick the right health insurance plan. It’s nearing open enrollment time, and the decision you make now on which health care plan to enroll in for next year is likely the biggest factor in determining what your health care costs will be.It’s becoming increasingly common for companies to offer high-deductible health plans, which allow consumers to pay low premiums upfront in exchange for a high deductible which must be hit before insurance coverage kicks in for non-essential services. This can be a smart choice for young, healthy workers who infrequently visit the doctor and don’t take medicine on a regular basis. As the name implies, however, the deductibles can be high—up to $13,000 for a family–and if you don’t have an emergency fund to cover them should you have a health problem this year, it may be a big financial risk. This calculator can help you get a sense of how different your out-of-pocket costs could be between the two types of plans.

Shop around for care. Particularly if you’ve got a high deductible plan, it pays to take advantage of new transparency toolks to compare the cost of medical providers, especially if you’re looking at elective care. “You’re not going to [shop around] if you have chest pain,” says Steve Neeleman, vice chairman and founder of the personal health care financial services company HealthEquity. “But you might if you have back pain and are looking at an MRI.”Your insurer or employer may have a portal you can use to see costs and quality metrics, or you can try one of a growing number of online sites with data, such as Health Care Blue Book or Health Sparq.

Take advantage of tax benefits. If you choose an HDHP, you’re eligible to open a health savings account, where you can stash money tax-free to use for eligible expenses, including copays, dentist visits, and glasses. Some companies will match the money you put into an HSA, and if you don’t use it, you can keep it for next year. This year a family can put up to $6,750 into an account for family.If you don’t use an HDHP, you can still use tax-advantaged money for healthcare expenses. You can put up to $2,550 into an FSA, which you can use for eligible expenses. FSA money not used by the end of the year (or within the first few months of next year if your employer offers a grace period) is lost…

Read full story at Forbes
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