Medicine and Money: 6 Ways to Stretch Your Dollar When You’re Uninsured
Health care is costly when you don’t have coverage. But there are ways to cut your expenses. Here are six of the very best.
1. Become a negotiator. Doctors and hospitals almost never collect the full prices for their services. They routinely give major discounts to insurance companies, Medicaid and Medicare. With a little persistence, you may be able to negotiate a lower price as well. One common strategy is to call the billing officer and offer to pay the Medicare price. Just be sure to do it beforehand. Afterwards, it will be too late.
2. Use prescription-saving strategies. There are plenty of ways to cut the cost of your meds. You may be familiar with some of them, but they always bear repeating.
- Ask your doctor for free samples.
- Ask about generic alternatives.
- Try buying in bulk through a mail-order pharmacy.
- Compare prices to find the cheapest drug store.
- Ask your doctor about splitting larger tablets.
For most people, prescription costs repeat month after month. Even if you only save a little each month, the effort still might be worth it. Over time, it can add up to quite a chunk.
3. Look into tax breaks. After you’ve spent 7.5 percent of your income on health care, everything else you spend is deductible. If you’re on a limited income, a deduction might be pretty easy to reach. And the list of allowable expenses is quite generous. It includes all kinds of things you might not expect. Get your hands on a copy of IRS publication 502 to learn how it works.
4. Get the proper level of care. Emergency rooms have to see you even if you can’t pay. But that doesn’t have to mean they’re free. In fact, they’re the most expensive of all health care facilities. You’ll probably end up getting a bill in the mail. If you can’t pay it, the hospital might try to collect anyway. You could end up deeply in debt.
That’s why you should only use emergency rooms for true emergencies. If your symptoms don’t meet the criteria, you can save money by seeking care elsewhere. Try going to a minor care or pharmacy clinic instead. You can usually see someone for a fraction of the cost of an ER visit.
5. Try finding some help. Depending on your income, you may be able to qualify for one or more assistance programs. Some examples include:
- Low-cost care at a community health center
- Charity care at a local hospital
- Pro bono care from a local doctor
- Other church-sponsored programs
Each program operates differently, though. You may be able to qualify for some, though not for others. But you won’t know until you do your research.
6. Take care of yourself. The best way to save on medical expenses is not to incur them. And the best way to stay out of the doctor’s office is to stay healthy. Depending on the circumstances, this may require certain lifestyle changes on your part. You may need to:
- Quit smoking
- Improve your diet
- Lose weight
- Exercise more
- Cut back on alcohol consumption
- Make other changes
In the end, getting fit is really the key to keeping costs down. And the good news is that even modest changes can have significant benefits. Think of getting healthy as a life-long effort, something you get better at in time. That way, the changes you make will gradually become permanent, which means the benefits will too.