It’s no secret that health care costs in America are notoriously high; as of 2022, the average monthly cost of health insurance in the United States is an eye-popping $541 a month. And if you don’t have insurance, you could be paying far more out of pocket if your health takes a turn for the worse.
With inflation skyrocketing, the struggle to manage health care costs may become even more difficult. In fact, shelter, food and medical care costs were the biggest contributors to the Consumer Price Index’s 8.3% year-over-year jump in August.
In an effort to get inflation under control, the Federal Reserve is hiking interest rates, but changes to the economy take time. If you or a loved one are struggling with health concerns, waiting for prices to fall may not be an option. These tips can help you stretch your dollar to cover the cost of necessary treatments — or even day-to-day healthy habits — while prices loom large.
Maximize your health insurance benefits
When it comes to using your health insurance for medical expenses, there are a couple of key options you can use right now to reduce costs.
First, there’s telehealth. Telehealth options are often cheaper than in-office visits, plus they don’t require transportation costs. You may even get to skip the copay, depending on your insurer. However, you still get access to your doctor to discuss current symptoms or provide an update on an ongoing health condition. (Of course, telehealth isn’t an option for incidents that require a trip to the ER, and you should always seek in-person treatment for serious medical events.)
Another key to saving money on your current health care needs is taking advantage of mail-order prescriptions. You can generally order a higher number of doses or pills at once for long-term medications and potentially receive a bulk discount. Depending on the program, you may even be able to get free delivery.
Once the new year rolls around (or you have a qualifying event) you may also consider switching health insurance plans to save money on health-related costs. Depending on your health and age, a cheaper plan may provide all of the coverages you’ll actually need and use. Be sure to factor in any copays or coinsurance as well as things like medications and premiums. And, ideally, you should make sure that you can afford the deductible. That way, if you do have an unexpected and expensive medical issue, you’ll be in a good position to cover your end of the costs.
Prevention is also key to avoiding many high-cost medical expenses. Your health insurance may provide access to free health-related services, like at-home workout videos and wellness apps, which can also help you focus on your health. And, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most health plans provide preventative services for free.
Plan ahead for your medical expenses
Health care costs can vary widely depending on where you go for treatment and how you receive it, so it’s important to plan them out as much as possible. For example, you could do things like:
- Call ahead to see what the costs of procedures are at various hospitals or clinics
- Make sure that you’re always using in-network providers to avoid higher out-of-network prices
- Use cost estimators from local hospitals, or request a "good faith estimate" to understand your options (most hospitals are required to provide these options)
- Look into outpatient services and generic medications and ask your doctor if they’re right for you (according to the Food and Drug Administration, many generic drugs cost about 75% less than their brand-name counterparts)
You can also use free resources like SingleCare or GoodRx to look up pharmacy costs for your medications and access discounts. Healthcare Bluebook can also show you a range for the cost of specific procedures in your area, as well as what they deem a ‘fair price.’ (That tool is available for free, but you’ll have to create an account to access the data.)
Using a health savings account (HSA) or flexible savings account (FSA) can also help. These accounts allow you to save money for medical expenses while reducing your taxable income. FSAs are provided by employers, and HSAs are only available to those with a high-deductible health plan. However, if you qualify for an HSA, it’s likely going to be the better option since you can generally roll over those funds from year to year, and it comes with higher contribution limits than an FSA.
Look into cost-assistance programs, if needed
If you find yourself in a position where you’re unable to afford your necessary health care costs, there are programs designed to provide financial assistance.
For example, if you don’t have insurance, the Vaccines for Children Program as well as local health centers and state health departments may be able to help you access free or low-cost vaccines.
When it comes to insurance, Medicaid provides access to health insurance coverage for individuals with low income. And Medicare provides several cost-saving options for drugs and health care plans, provided you qualify for coverage. (That’s typically limited to those who are 65 or older, or have a qualifying disability.) Staying covered can help you access preventative care and avoid potentially costly treatment.
There are also other government programs, like food assistance programs, disability programs and veterans benefits that may be able to help you afford basic living costs, including those related to health care. You can use the Benefit Finder to understand which options might be available to you.
Prioritize health maintenance
Prioritizing your own health is one way to save on potentially expensive medical costs. Upping your physical activity, swapping highly processed foods for healthier options, and quitting negative health habits (like smoking), can help you save money and potentially feel better in the process.
And although the cost of staying healthy can vary depending on your current health status and where you live, there are still ways to save.
For instance, you may consider using free health-related apps to prioritize specific healthy habits or meet certain goals, like incorporating more steps into your daily routine, drinking enough water or getting adequate sleep. The key here is to seek guidance from your doctor before starting any sort of health program. That way, you won’t end up doing more harm than good. And for those looking for mental health options, One Mind PsyberGuide can help you evaluate your options based on reviews from experts.
And when it comes to food, buying seasonal options, rather than out-of-season fruits and veggies, can help you work more of those foods into your diet while reducing processed foods and costs. Going with frozen fruits and vegetables is another lower-cost option here, particularly if you need to purchase out-of-season foods. Either way, planning your weekly meals ahead of time can help you use more of the foods you’re already purchasing, and consequently reduce waste and overbuying.