If you’re already on a high-deductible health plan or make the move to one during this open enrollment season, you’re not alone. Last year, about 24% of employees who were offered employer-sponsored health benefits chose a high-deductible health plan, up a whopping 20% from the previous year. And since companies typically save 5% or more on premiums when they offer high deductible plans, it’s a pretty safe bet their popularity will only continue to rise.
A high-deductible plan (also called a “consumer-directed” health plan or “catastrophic health insurance”), is intended to encourage responsible use of healthcare by asking patients to share the cost burden with the insurer. Use these five insider tips to help keep your pre-deductible costs from turning catastrophic themselves.
Take Advantage of Free Preventive Care (and don’t put off care when you need it)
An unfortunate side effect of a shared cost burden is that many simply choose to put off non-urgent care in order to save money. This doesn’t work for a couple of reasons:
- Non-urgent issues, if left untreated, can become very urgent and expensive issues down the line.
- Most high-deductible health plans offer free or discounted preventive services like annual physicals, vaccines, and screenings.
Insurance companies have long recognized the importance of preventive care in saving money for both payers and patients. It’s in their best interest to make sure you get your yearly cholesterol screening, because that’s much cheaper than an ER visit for a heart attack.
Check your benefits plan for covered preventive services – you may be surprised by what your insurer will cover for free, or at a very low price.
Use Transparency Tools to Shop and Compare
One of the reasons healthcare costs are so daunting for patients paying out of pocket is that we usually don’t know what we’re paying before the service is rendered. Using price transparency tools can help with that, by showing an average price for your local area. Having a ballpark number can help you determine if you’re getting a good deal.
Try Healthcare Bluebook to find out fair prices in your city or state, and use that number to help you negotiate fair self-pay rates.
Online healthcare marketplaces like MDsave show you the complete price upfront for each provider and let you purchase your procedure beforehand, so all you need at the doctor’s office is a voucher.
Negotiate Self-Pay Prices
When you make your appointment with the doctor’s office, let them know upfront that you’re paying out of pocket. Many providers are willing to work with you on the price. After all, they’d rather get paid what you can afford than not get paid at all. Ask for a self-pay or cash-pay price, and if it’s more than you can pay in one go, ask about a monthly payment plan.
Embrace Pharmacy Tools and Generics
Check out GoodRx before you fill your next prescription. They show you the price of the same medicine at different pharmacies in your area, so you don’t have to pay more for the same drug. GoodRx also offers coupons and includes information on manufacturer assistance programs where applicable.
Also consider getting the generic version of your prescription. Your doctor will specify if you need a name brand – otherwise, you can save money by going generic. Generics are cheaper for you and your insurer, and many insurance companies will cover more of the cost of a generic than a name brand.
Take Advantage of Tax-Sheltered Savings Accounts
If you are offered a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flex Savings Account (FSA) with your health plan, these are a good opportunity to put money aside for your healthcare, completely tax-free. Many companies will match your HSA or FSA contribution from your paycheck up to a certain point, so don’t leave free money on the table.
Be sure you know whether you have an HSA or FSA, and keep track of the money in that account: while HSA funds can roll over into the next year, FSA funds tend to be use-it-or-lose-it.