am about to tell you something shocking - Healthcare is not expensive. At least, it doesn't have to be.
Now obviously if you are hospitalized, have surgery, or are critically ill, it can get expensive quick. But the majority of you won't have a catastrophic health event, but will still spend a ton on health care and health coverage.
In fact, the average person spends around $6500 on healthcare each year. But it doesn't have to cost that much.
Following many of these tips, I cut my family's healthcare expenses this year by around $600 per month.
No matter what your health situation is, you can implement many of these tips right now to start saving. Let's take a look.
- Stop going to urgent care!
- Don't use your health insurance for everything
- Find a good primary care doctor who won't refer you out for everything
- Look into medical cost sharing
- Chat with your boss about healthcare
- Stop overpaying for your medication
- Leave fee-for-service healthcare behind
- Focus on getting healthy, and staying healthy
Stop going to urgent care!
This is the #1 tip for a reason, and young healthy people are the worst offenders. In fact, 45% of people aged 18-29 do not have a primary care doctor, and opt for urgent care instead. If this is you, stop, unless you like expensive, poor quality care.
Look, I get it, urgent cares are convenient, and it's easy to get turned off by how abysmal primary care has become lately.
However, being seen by a good primary care doctor will always be more cost effective, and you'll get better care.
Not only does a single urgent care visit cost more than a whole month of care at my office, but there is no follow-up, any additional testing will cost a fortune, and if your health issue is more complex, you're on your own.
If you've had a bad experience with a family medicine provider, find a new one, don't turn to urgent care. There are many doctors out there who will see you same day, follow-up with you personally, allow you to have a convenient telemedicine visit, and are affordable. You may need to look outside of big medical corporations to find them though...
Unfortunately, there is a reason I've seen urgent cares pop up all over in Littleton. Many large medical practices over-book their providers, and force their long term patients to go to urgent care when they need a same day appointment. In many cases the nearest urgent care is owned by... wait for it... that same large medical practice.
So, get a primary care doctor who has time for you and stop using urgent care. Bonus points if you have a doctor you can text or call directly when something urgent does happen.
Don't use your health insurance for everything
This is my favorite tip on this list, because we've been so brainwashed that we always need to use our health insurance when we get medical care.
Don't get me wrong - you should have health insurance (or an alternative), just don't use it unless you really have to.
Let me explain - First, figure out what your deductible is? $3,000, $6,000, $12,000? Once you have spent that insane amount of money, congratulations, now your insurance will start to save you money! But until you hit that deductible, you are paying double, triple, even up to 10 times more for your medical care.
Can you imagine how much an oil change or filling up your gas would cost if you used your car insurance every time? But you don't use your insurance for an oil change, because that would be crazy.
Healthcare is (or should be) the same.
As an example, here is what my patients pay when they ask for cash pricing, compared to what patients pay when using their insurance:
- Routine bloodwork (CBC, CMP, lipid panel) - $22 (insurance - $241)
- Vitamin D test - $17 (insurance - $204)
- X-ray - $60 (insurance - $340)
- CAT Scan - $325 (insurance - $1150)
So here's what to do:
- If you are one of the ~5% of people who routinely hit your deductible, keep using insurance for everything, because it is probably helping you lower your medical costs.
- If you are one of the 95% of people who don't hit your deductible, start paying cash for your smaller medical expenses.
It may feel weird, but you can call your doctor's office and ask what the cash price of a visit is. Even if you have insurance, it is your right not to use it and to request a cash price. Believe it or not, most medical offices love this, because they get their money up front, not 3 months later after fighting with your insurance.
If you need testing of any type, ask for the cash price - you can find a ton of savings this way.
My patients are used to asking for a cash price everywhere, because they know it is always cheaper.
Even if you're not totally sold on this, it doesn't hurt to ask and have the option, why would you pay more just for the privilege of using your insurance card?
Find a good primary care doctor who won't refer you out for everything.
When given enough time, primary care doctors can care for almost all of your health needs. But when they get 10 minutes with you, they will typically need to refer you to a specialist for anything remotely complicated.
The cost of your healthcare will drop dramatically if you can decrease unneeded referrals.
If you think that the role of a primary care doctor is simply to provide you a referral for anything complex, you need to re-evaluate the care you are getting.
As a side note, insurance companies and hospitals love when PCP's need to refer.
Guess how much money a hospital makes from referrals from their primary care doctors? Over 2 million dollars each year.
It's no wonder hospitals pack their PCP's schedule and contractually obligate them to refer in-house.
Look into medical cost sharing.
This is not for everyone, but if it is right for you, you will save a ton. Single adults can join a cost sharing community for under $100 month, and families for under $300 per month.
The way it works, is you pay a monthly "contribution" which is used to help other members of the community. If you need help with a larger medical expense, the community shares with you.
A couple caveats - many of these programs offer limited help with pre-existing conditions and chronic medications. These are also not insurance, so you lack any sort of regulatory protection (although I argue that insurance companies deny claims all the time and leave patients helpless, but that's for another article).
There are many options out there, some faith-based, some not.
The thing I like best about cost sharing, is you get real prices, not the fake insurance pricing we discussed above.
Learn about cost sharing here.
Chat with your boss about healthcare
If your company provides health insurance, you will pay an average of $133 per month per member of your family to get it.
Then, you'll need to pay $6000 or more for your deductible before it starts to work...
The truth is, most employees simply cannot afford to use the health insurance provided by their company, if they are lucky enough to get health benefits at all.
This is where I really need to plug direct primary care, because It is one of the few health benefits that employees can use to get medical care without having to pay a dime, and it saves businesses money at the same time (learn more about DPC for small business).
For companies not offering any health benefits, each employee can get unlimited, high quality, free primary care for under $100 per month.
For companies who do offer health benefits, by adding direct primary care each employee can get medical care without having to meet a deductible. As a bonus, people in a direct care practice have better health, miss less work, and use their insurance less, which lowers the company's insurance premiums and renewal rates.
Stop overpaying for your medication
I can't stand how pharmacies dispense medication and it shows how much your insurance saved you. What they should show is how much you paid with insurance vs how much you would pay if you didn't use your insurance.
Overwhelmingly, you can get lower prices by just paying cash, using prescription savings services, or getting wholesale prices if your doctor's office provides that service.
GoodRx is a good resource to use, or NeedyMeds if you need financial assistance.
Often times Costco and Walmart have very competitive cash prices.
As a service for members of my practice, I order medication from a wholesaler and sell it at cost, which is typically 90% less than the "bargain" insurance price on your pharmacy Rx.
Leave fee for service healthcare behind
The country is starting to move away from traditional fee for service healthcare, where you pay every time you need to see your doctor.
It's really a poorly designed system which makes doctors bring patients in for silly things like discussing labwork, it incentivizes more visits instead of less, and just makes healthcare more expensive.
Medicare and some insurance companies are experimenting with paying doctors on a monthly basis for each patient they carry and are finding that it does in fact lower healthcare costs, and not surprisingly, results in patients being healthier at the same time.
The direct primary care movement is at least a decade ahead of this trend, and is growing fast.
Focus on getting healthy, and staying healthy
There's no doubt, preventing disease is always cheaper than treating disease. Easier said than done, but with a good healthcare team behind you, you can get chronic diseases under control, and even prevent becoming ill in the first place.
Preventive healthcare has taken a major backseat these days, but there are doctors and providers out there who are absolutely focused on helping you lead a healthy life, rather than just seeing you after you've gotten ill.
Healthcare costs are rising, and are predicted to rise a ton next year because of COVID-19. Hopefully these tips can help you get your medical costs under control.
If you're in the Littleton or west Denver area, I'm always happy to chat about how I can help you save on your healthcare costs. Just give me a call.
Do you have any other tips that have helped you trim down your medical expenses?
*DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice and is not a substitute for professional medical care. If you or someone you know has a medical concern, please contact your physician or healthcare provider. Do not delay care because of something you may have read on this website. If you think you are having a medical emergency, call 911 right away.