Even with recent legislation designed to reduce the cost of medical care, medical expenses can often be a family or individual's largest expense. This expense can also arise at unexpected times and be more than the family or individual can pay. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce these expenses that require little effort and do not require forgoing receiving quality health care.
Option 1: Use Mail Order Prescription Services
One of the best ways to save money on health care costs is to use mail order prescription services. Mail order prescription services can be used in lieu of walk-in pharmacies to fill your prescriptions. These pharmacies are able to charge less for prescriptions because they do not have to pay for the overhead associated with a large pharmacy retail space.
Mail order pharmacies offer you savings in three different ways:
- Charging less for prescriptions
- Allowing you to obtain a three-month supply of a prescription at a reduced cost
- Mailing prescriptions directly to you so that you save time
According to a 2013 report, the average per-unit cost for pills dispensed by retail pharmacies was $1.03 and for mail order-pharmacies $.98. This five-cent per unit lower cost can result in significant savings for consumers.
Using a mail order pharmacy usually means that you acquire more medicine for a lower cost. Because mail order pharmacies dispense the same medications as retail pharmacies, you are not sacrificing any medicine quality by using a mail order pharmacy.
Option 2: Negotiate Costs
Health insurance companies regularly negotiate the amount of money they are willing to pay for a service or medicine; this negotiated amount may be identified as the "allowable amount" on your bills or explanation of benefit reports. If the insurance company can do it, so can you!
Ask for Reduced Rates
To negotiate your medical bills, contact the medical care provider to see if he or she is willing to reduce or even eliminate the cost. Explain that you are unable to pay the bill and see how the provider or hospital is willing to work with you. If the provider or hospital is unable to reduce the cost, they may instead offer to create a payment plan for the bill. This may allow you to pay the bill over time at no additional cost without being identified as delinquent in your payments. This can save your credit and avoid your bill being sold to a collection agency.
If you have health insurance, you will negotiate the amount that falls on your shoulders, meaning the amount that the insurance company refuses to pay and the provider or hospital is trying to collect. If you don't have insurance, you will negotiate the total amount of the bill you received.
Option 3: Take Advantage of Free Preventative Care Services
To comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), all insurance companies are now required to provide free preventative care services to plan members. This rule applies to policies purchased on health care exchanges as well as non-grandfathered plans. The ACA has established what is considered preventative care, which includes some shots, screenings, and well-woman care services. These services must be provided to you at no cost, meaning that you are not required to meet your deductible before obtaining them, make a copayment or have coinsurance pay for a portion of them.
Preventative care measures help you remain healthy. The aim of these free services is to help you identify potential health problems and correct them before you require care for an illness they cause.
Some health insurance companies offer free services beyond those required to be covered under the ACA. Your insurance company's website or customer service hotline can help you identify what free preventative care services are available to you.
Option 4: Know and Play by the Rules
Insurance companies often have specific rules for some types of medical care that must be followed to avoid your being responsible for a large portion of the bill associated with that care. For example, Humana requires that you obtain pre-authorization prior to being admitted to a skilled nursing facility and United Health Care requires that you obtain prior authorization for occupational therapy visits. Making sure that you abide by these rules usually means that it is the insurance company that pays for the majority of the bill.
Common rules include pre-authorization requirements, facilities that you may visit, and the percentage of payment that you are responsible for in certain circumstances, such as visiting an emergency care facility. These rules are included in your plan explanation booklet. However, your insurer's website or customer care representatives should also be able to provide details about your plan.
Option 5: Split Prescribed Medications
A 30-day supply of a 25-milligram pill often costs the same as a 30-day supply of a 50-milligram pill. By purchasing the larger dosage and breaking a pill in half, you'll spend the same amount for twice as much medication. Because you are not skimping on your prescription, you are not sacrificing the quality of care you need. Note, however, that not all pills can be split.
Of course you'll need a prescription from your doctor for the larger dosage. Explaining the cost factor to him and that you would like to split the pills to reduce your costs is usually more than enough to compel your doctor to write you an order for the larger dosage. The only exception may be for controlled substances.
Lowering Your Medical Bills
These options can help you save money on your medical bills, possibly as much as hundreds or thousands of dollars. Thoroughly investigate each option before pursuing one to ensure that it is available to you and will not affect any medical care you need.