When I got my first full-time job after college, I was given a bunch of forms to fill out and I had to make decisions on beneficiaries, taxes, and health care. After taxes, figuring out my health plan was difficult because there were so many choices, scenarios, and prices to consider. I finally chose the most expensive plan since it was the most comprehensive, thinking I would be fully covered if something happened to me (mistake #1). My plan also gave me a choice to pick a primary care physician but I decided to stay with the urgent care facility that I used while I was a broke college student (mistake #2).
For 6 years, I didn’t review my annual situation and stayed with the same plan. I paid $300/month towards health insurance even with my work covering part of my plan. I also put up with terrible customer service at the urgent care center I went to that I finally decided to my research and find another doctor within my plan. Just last year, I decided to review my current situation and chose a new medical plan with Kaiser that was sufficient for my needs but only cost me $60/month. I had to switch doctors but I am happy with my current plan and I saved $240/month by switching plans. No wonder I felt so broke during this time! Between the high cost of living in Hawaii and paying back all my college debt, I was dying.
I realized how important it is to review your health plan and your current situation every year or as often as your situation changes. There may be new prescriptions that are not covered by your plan or new services added to your plan. You might be newly married or just had a baby. You need to make sure your health plan has sufficient coverage for you and your household. Since we plan to have kids in the upcoming years, I want to change my health plan with Kaiser for a more comprehensive coverage to cover future hospital stays and doctors visits (my husband has health insurance from his work). It will cost an additional $200 a month but most of the hospital service costs are included in the plan and it’s better than paying 15% of the the hospital bill later. After we have our first child, I can then switch back to my old plan and add our new baby to the plan. I was able to figure this out because Kaiser has a great tool to estimate medical expenses based on my current plan (I just found this now when I was researching how much labor and delivery cost!). See if your plan has this too!
A couple of years ago, I also discovered that I could get a flex spending account through my employer (this is why it’s good to review your work benefits too!). It’s the same as a health savings account (HSA) where my employer will deduct a certain amount of money before taxes to put towards a health savings plan that I can use for co-payments, parking at the doctor’s office, etc. I designate how much I want to set aside every year so I have to make sure to allocate just enough money for all of my medical expenses for the year and spend down my account wisely. For example, I’ve calculated our yearly expenses for doctor’s visits, prescriptions, contacts, and eye doctor exams at $1000/year out of pocket (I can cover my husband for this even if he has his own separate health plan). This comes out to about $40 a paycheck but it is paid before taxes so it lowers my taxable income, which mean I pay less for taxes. I also get a debit card that I can easily use to pay for medical expenses. You just have to make sure to stay within your budget and check that your expenses are covered under the plan. I’m sad that I can’t buy cold medicine with my flex account but I can buy contact solution and even first aid kits! When I plan to have large medical expenses in the upcoming plan year, I increase my budget to the maximum amount allowed. I have done this when I got four wisdom teeth extracted (ouch!) and when I got braces. This has helped reduce my out of pocket expenses greatly. I plan to one day use this for lasik eye surgery for both of us. One tip to save even more money through these accounts is to buy flex-approved items when they are on sale or when you have coupons. I frequently do this when I purchase contact solution since we both wear contacts and go through a lot of bottles a year.
Speaking of braces, just because your dentist gives you a quote for braces doesn’t mean you are stuck with that cost and option. I compared quotes from several dental offices and treatments before I decided on fastbraces with my current dentist. Do your research and weigh different treatments and costs before deciding what to do. This is one of the few medical expenses where you can get quotes before agreeing to a treatment.
Moreover, there are ways to save money on prescriptions. I’ve saved a lot of time and money by ordering prescriptions through the Kaiser app because it comes in the mail. I don’t have to drive to the pharmacy or wait in line. If I have no refills left, it’s easy to request a doctor’s authorization for a refill through the app. Some health plans even offer discounts for 90-day prescriptions and they usually come in the mail so you have to make sure to order in advance before you run out. If your doctor doesn’t already do this automatically, you can ask your doctor for generic versions of your medications. I’ve saved $45-$90 by using generic prescriptions.
Having health insurance is one of the best ways to save money on health expenses in the first place! I remember going to the ER for migraines twice because they were so severe. I got an IV, some medication, a CT scan, and some bedrest. It cost me over $3,000 without health insurance! My current plan only costs me $100 for a visit to the ER. Moreover, now that health insurance is required by the U.S. government, it’s important to get a plan or you’ll be penalized come tax season.
Prevention is another way to save money on health care. By eating well, exercising, and taking good care of your health, you’ll save hundreds or thousands of dollars in health expenses later in life. Certain cancers can be prevented by stopping tobacco use, using proper sunscreen, avoiding tanning and drugs, and reducing alcohol intake. Type II diabetes can also be prevented through proper diet and exercise. Check to see if your health plan has free weight loss or tobacco cessation programs like Kaiser. They even have a cool program where you get reimbursed up to $200 a year for joining and going to a gym. In addition, it’s important to be up-to-date in your vaccinations and yearly exams. It’s better to catch cancers and other health problems in its early stages while there is still time to fix it. I know I have to do a better job of exercising and eating healthier since my family has a history of cancer, diabetes, and heart problems (anyone want to be my fitness coach for free?).
Health care is expensive but it’s not impossible to find ways to save money on this. What are some ways you save on medical expenses? Comment below!