Since graduating from college, getting married and starting my life as an independent adult I have quickly discovered the expenses that add up the most quickly and extensively: medical expenses. It’s unbelievable how quickly these can accumulate. I’ve already written a post on how you can save yourself hundreds of dollars by questioning claims through your insurer, which you can view here. For this post, I want to write about some tricks I’ve learned to save you money from those medical bills that you can’t avoid.
Have a primary physician for your family that you see regularly. This is an easy thing to do, simply reach out to your health insurer to find out which doctors are in your network. Most big insurers should also have a system in place to find physicians that come highly recommended. There are many reasons why this is a big money saver. First, seeing a doctor at regular intervals can help you maintain your health and catch problems before they even begin. Second, having a relationship with a physician gives you an alternative to going to the emergency room when you are having an issue, which can potentially save you hundreds of dollars in copay expenses.
Even though this should be an easy thing to do, I’ve found that it’s one of the least taken advantage of. I once asked around my work to see who had a primary doctor that they visited regularly. I spoke to about 5 people, and not a single one confirmed that they had their own physician. This is something that my wife and I never even considered until we had our daughter. We had her pediatrician already selected and the first appointment made before we left the hospital. However, the experience has showed us that we need to take advantage of having one doctor that we both see for ourselves. As of the writing of this article we are still actively searching for a physician that we like and hope to have this process completed before the end of the year (I’ll warn you now, some of the best family doctors have huge wait times to get in for a first appointment).
Be open to walk-in clinics like Urgent Care before going to the emergency room. A typical health plan will have a smaller copay for qualified emergencies that go through a walk-in clinic as opposed to an emergency room. Obviously this isn’t applicable in all cases, and for emergencies that these clinics aren’t qualified to treat you should definitely go to the emergency room and not worry about money. However, when this is not the case, I recommend that you be open to the clinics. I recall several times in the past few years that I would go to the E.R. for simple things like migraines that I could have easily had treated at Urgent Care. Some surveys even show that patients have better experiences at walk-in clinics for certain things than they would otherwise have had at the E.R. To use myself as an example, in 2016 about 75% of my medical expenses were emergency room copays. Had I gone to urgent care instead for most of these, I could have have very easily reduced by about 60%.
Another example is when my daughter got a stomach bug combined with a double ear infection. One Saturday morning she started vomiting repeatedly and we could not figure out what was wrong. Since it was the weekend, our pediatrician’s office was not open and we thought our only option would be the emergency room with the huge copay that came with it. While we were packing everything up to go to the E.R., we remembered the pediatrician telling us to take our child to the nearby pediatric urgent care if there were ever any issues and she wasn’t available. We did just that, and they were able to diagnose what was wrong. We had a prescription within an hour that helped our girl tremendously. We had to take her back to a follow up appointment at the clinic the next day, bringing the total number of clinic visits to two. The amount of money I spent on those two copays was several hundred dollars less than I would have spent at the emergency room. Additionally, since this clinic was geared towards child care, the experience was much better.
Remember, where you take yourself or your kids for health treatment depends entirely on your comfort level and the seriousness of whatever is going on. However, you should always consider walk in clinics an option.
Take advantage of a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) if you can. This is something that’s typically offered through your employer, and if it’s available to you I highly recommend that you make use of it. An FSA allows you to select an amount of money each year that is put aside in a pre-tax account for you to spend on certain approved medical expenses. The way that this tool saves you money is not in medical expenses directly, but in your taxable income each year. It’s also very nice because the amount that you put aside is taken out in increments throughout the year from your paychecks, so you don’t have to fund it up front. Choosing the amount to put into your FSA each year is an art, especially because any funds in your account that you don’t use that year (or by a designated cutoff point in the following year) is surrendered. Make sure that when selecting how much to put into your FSA you are doing your research ahead of time to anticipate how much you’ll need.
These are three tips I’ve learned that can save hundreds of dollars in medical related expenses each year. I wish that I’d known these things sooner, as I’m sure that I could have saved hundreds if not thousands of dollars in the past couple of years. Now that you’ve read about my experiences, I hope that you’re able to save some money yourself!