Here's a quick, two-question quiz:
- How much do you think you're going to spend on healthcare this year?
- And are you taking steps to bring those costs down?
According to the 2016 Healthcare Consumerism Index from Alegeus, a health benefits service provider, for two-thirds of consumers the answers are: I don't know. And no.
That's a problem. Healthcare costs run over $3 trillion a year — and have been increasing at well above the inflation rate — with more of that money coming out of a consumer's budget.
So what can you do to bring those costs down? Take these five steps:
Pay with Pre-Tax Dollars
The number one way consumers can save on healthcare expenses is to contribute pre-tax dollars to a FSA/Flexible Spending Account or HSA/Health Savings Accounts, says Alegeus CEO Steve Auerbach. Because these dollars go in tax-free (and aren't taxed when they're used to pay for medical expenses), they stretch an average of 30% further.
FSA and HSA funds can be used for most prescriptions, medical bills and even certain over-the-counter medicines with a prescription from a physician.
Note: There is a big difference between the two accounts. If you don't use the money you put into your FSA each year by your company's deadline, you lose that money. The money in your HSA is yours to keep and you can take it with you from job to job, even into retirement. You need a high deductible health plan to qualify to open an HSA (Bronze and Silver plans on the exchanges qualify.)
Comparison Shop for All Prescriptions...
A Consumer Reports poll showed that only 17 percent of people do this. And having a standard co-pay doesn't let you off the hook because sometimes you can get prescriptions for even less than that. If you're paying out of pocket, the prices can vary widely.
GoodRx.com can tell you what a fair price is for particular drugs. The differences can be striking: Consumer Reports found differences on generic Plavix (within the same Dallas zip code) from $150 to $23, and on Cymbalta (within the same Raleigh NC zip) from $249 to $43.
…and All Procedures
Since 2015, there has been a 20 percent increase in consumers who research and compare alternatives before a major service or procedure, according to the Alegeus study. That's good news, because there are wide cost disparities in healthcare procedures. Healthcare BlueBook reports differences of up to 500 percent, even in the same provider network. You can and should negotiate with your doctors on your own. (They're used to it.)
But if you're dealing with pre-existing bills, try tapping into Copatient.com. This service, which helps consumers negotiate savings on large medical bills, found that 90 percent of consumer bills have savings opportunities, either through error correction or negotiation. You upload your bills, they analyze them and give you an estimate of how much can be saved. You can take it yourself from there, or you can have them do it for you for a charge of 35 percent of the money saved.
Use a Discount Program
There are apps and other discount cards that can help you get a lower price if you're paying out of pocket for your prescriptions. Among them: ScriptRelief which has an app called SearchRx, Blink Health and GoodRx. They've negotiated lower prices (because they buy volumes) for drugs. Also talk to your doctor about whether an alternative medication is just as good and, perhaps cheaper.
Ask for help if you can't afford your meds. The Partnership For Prescription Assistance — online at PPARX.com — is a free service that can help you access your drugs. You tell them what medicines you take, whether (or not) you have any drug coverage, and they help you find prescription assistance programs that can help.
Shop Costco and online pharmacies for drugs. They're known for low drug prices. Just be sure if you use an online pharmacy it's US-based and a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (it will display that seal on the website). And no matter where you're shopping, try to buy 90 days worth, not 30. Many generics are priced at $4 per prescription every 30 days, but $10 for 90 days. It's a small saving, but if you're buying multiple prescriptions it adds up.
With Kelly Hultgren