Out of Pocket – Out of Control: How to Manage Your Increasing Health Care Costs

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Americans now have greater access to quality health care than ever before, which is great! But, do you feel like you're paying more out-of-pocket for your family's health care than ever before? Well, you might be doing just that. A recent survey conducted by Consumer Reports suggests that 12% of Americans spent more than five-thousand dollars on out-of-pocket health care expenses in 2013. And, according to the same survey, that figure doesn't even include premium costs or prescription drug costs paid by the individual.

While a recent study by the Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit health care research group, found the overall growth of health care costs is actually slowing, the same study determined that out-of-pocket health care costs, defined in the study as premium costs plus deductibles, now accounts for over nine percent (9.6%) of median household income. That same figure accounted for approximately five percent (5.3%) of median household income in 2003. And, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the change in real median household income in 2012 and 2013 was statistically insignificant while the previous two years showed consecutive annual declines. Further, a comparison of real median household income from 2007 to 2013 showed an eight percent decrease in income.

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In similar terms, this means many Americans are actually earning less now than they did in 2007, yet they're forced to pay more out-of-pocket for their healthcare. So, if you feel like more of your hard-earned money is earmarked for your family's out-of-pocket health care costs than ever before, you're probably right - and you're not alone.

But, what can you do to lower those out-of-pocket costs and still maintain quality health care?

Here are a few tips to help you get the most from your health care dollars:

Shop Around

blog-shop-around Take a little time to shop around for your medications. Many drugstores offer generic drugs at deeply discounted prices compared to name brand. Also, one pharmacy in the same area may charge significantly more or less for a particular drug than another pharmacy.

Be Engaged and Informed

blog-ask-about-procedure According to Consumer Reports, medical errors and infections at hospitals are linked to 440,000 deaths annually. The same survey indicates that those who said they "rarely" received respect from hospital medical staff were 2.5 times more likely to experience a medical error. To reduce your risk, be engaged and ask your healthcare provider lots of questions. If you don't understand a particular medical term, ask your doctor for an explanation in laymen's terms. You should never simply agree to treatment without fully understanding exactly what that treatment involves.

Take Advantage of Technology

blog-iphone-doctor-patient Modern technology can save you both time and money, as far as your health care is concerned. For example, did you know you can have a doctor’s visit online? This form of telemedicine offers numerous advantages. The technology helps you to speak directly to a health provider whenever you want – and it allows you to ask questions and receive medical treatment from the comfort of your own home. Essentially a virtual house call, patients seen via a video visit can be treated for minor ailments, as well as chronic conditions, safely and conveniently; even receiving a prescription when medically relevant. Plus, the use of telemedicine cuts costs and saves time associated with actually visiting a doctor's office.

Be Careful Using Dietary Supplements

blog-pill-box It may be best to avoid taking many dietary supplements. Body building, weight loss, and sexual enhancement supplements are three types that have commonly been associated with safety problems, including sometimes containing dangerous prescription or experimental drugs. And, "supplements" do not have to be tested and approved for safety or effectiveness before going to market. You'll likely be far better served by instead trying to maintain an overall healthier diet than resorting to dietary supplements.

Consider low-deductible versus high-deductible plans

blog-health-plan-budget Sometimes, but not always, a high-deductible plan may actually provide a better value than a plan with a lower deductible. While high-deductible plans make you pay more out-of-pocket, they also commonly have lower monthly premium payments. If you are a fairly healthy person who rarely goes to the doctor, you’re likely to save more in premiums with the high-deductible plan. But, before you enroll in that high-deductible plan, compare the amount of money you would save with lower premiums, to your possible exposure resulting from a higher deductible should an unexpected health issue arise.

Research Possible Tax Credits

blog-healthcare-tax-credit Depending on your income, you may qualify for tax credits to help with out-of-pocket expenses such as copayments and deductibles. If you earned between 100–250% of the federal poverty level, you may qualify. But remember, the federal poverty level is based on household size, so that actual dollar amount increases with the number of people in your household.

Utilize Network Providers

blog-network For most, a great way to save on out-of-pocket expenses is to see a health care provider within your health insurance network. Health insurance companies may not provide any coverage outside their network; and, when such coverage is provided, it's often significantly more expensive in terms of out-of-pocket expenses than an in-network provider. So, depending on your healthcare needs, you may actually save money if you choose a plan with a higher monthly premium, but a larger health care network.

Consider Preventative Care

blog-dentist-appointment Many times preventive care screenings and tests are offered with no out-of-pocket costs at all. These preventative tests can help you catch illnesses or medical condition earlier than you otherwise would. And often, the earlier a medical condition is discovered the more quickly and cost effectively it can be treated.

If you have more questions about out-of-pocket expenses and how to save additional money on your health care you can ask your doctor during your next visit. And remember, should you get sick, you can see a medical provider online, quickly and affordably with MeMD.