3 Easy Ways to Save Money on Healthcare

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We all know life has gotten more expensive lately… but has anything provided more sticker shock than healthcare?

Health insurance premiums rose 7% last year. Medical costs are expected to rise 7% this year after increasing 6% last year. And I’ve exclaimed “What?! That can’t be right!” after receiving a medical bill or checking out at the pharmacy more times than I can count.

Yet my doctor friends claim they make less money and spend more time doing insurance paperwork than ever before.

I felt bad that one of my physician friends recently had to spend time fighting with my insurance company (thanks a lot, Cigna) to get approval for medicine that I was already taking. This medicine keeps me out of his office, which actually saves the insurance company a considerable amount of money.

Luckily, there are several ways you can reduce the healthcare headaches and lower your costs by hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year.

Here are three that have worked for me in the past:

1. Use the GoodRx app.

GoodRx is one of the simplest tools you can use to save money on your medication. If you’re not already using it, download the app right now. It’s absolutely free.

I featured GoodRx in my book You Don’t Have to Drive an Uber in Retirement: How to Maintain Your Lifestyle without Getting a Job or Cutting Corners.

All you do is type your ZIP code and the name of your medicine into the app, and it will tell you the cheapest place to buy it. And in case you don’t want to go elsewhere to buy your medication, the app often has big money-saving coupons that you can use at your preferred pharmacy.

Last week, when my pharmacy notified me that my prescription was ready, it said it would cost me $289 out of pocket (thanks again, Cigna). So I looked up the medication on GoodRx, and there was a coupon that lowered my out-of-pocket cost all the way down to $133. All I had to do was show the coupon to the cashier.

GoodRx feels like one of those things that are too good to be true, but it’s helped me save money for years. It’s incredibly simple. I’ve never had a pharmacy refuse it, and it even has discounts and coupons on medication for your pets.

2. Ask.

No, that’s not the name of another app. If your medical costs are very high, ask your healthcare provider to lower your bill.

Now, I’m not talking about nickel-and-diming them for a small expense. No one wants to feel like they’re haggling at a tourist market when they’re talking to the physician’s office manager.

But when you have a big bill that your insurance isn’t covering, ask as nicely as you can if there’s anything your provider can do to help you out. Most of the staff in doctors’ offices are hard-working people who don’t make a fortune, so they get it. And your doctor may also be perfectly willing to help you out. You’d be surprised how accommodating they may be in the right circumstances.

I wouldn’t do this every time, but when you get that big whopper of a bill – especially if your insurance company is being difficult – go ahead and ask.

Many years ago, when my son was born, the anesthesiologist wasn’t in our insurance network even though the hospital was in our network. We didn’t choose the doctor; he was simply the one who was on call when my wife went into labor. So when we got a bill that would’ve forced us to decide between paying the doctor or sending our son to college someday, we explained the situation to the doctor’s staff, and they only charged us half.

Thanks to their flexibility, I’m happy to say that my son is a college graduate.

3. Stay out of the emergency room.

Obviously, if you’re in an emergency and you need to go to the ER, you should. But many situations that are not emergencies can be handled at urgent care. And that can make a huge difference – in more ways than one.

First of all, the ER is awful. You’ll be surrounded by people who have horrible injuries or are really sick. On top of that, the average wait time at an emergency room in the United States is two hours and 25 minutes. You’ll typically wait for 15 minutes to an hour at an urgent care facility, though the majority of patients are seen in under 15 minutes.

And keep in mind that only 12% of emergency room visits result in hospital admission.

Then, of course, there’s the cost. Emergency rooms are disgustingly expensive. A trip to the ER costs five to 10 times as much as an urgent care visit on average.

Many insurance companies have nurses on call 24 hours a day who can help you decide whether you’re better off going to the emergency room, heading to urgent care or just waiting it out.

You may think these nurses always recommend whichever option is the cheapest for the company. But in my experience, that is not true at all.

There are too many ambulance-chasing lawyers out there who would sue the insurance company if it gave you bad advice. So the insurance providers are going to make sure their butts are covered.

Once, after I had an allergic reaction, the insurance company’s nurse told me to go to the ER right away. Since it was in the middle of the day, I asked if I could go to urgent care instead. She begrudgingly said I could as long as I went right away.

So I went, got treated and was back home in about an hour. And I saved myself and the insurance company a few thousand dollars.

(You’re welcome, Cigna.)

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