Home > 2013 > Personal Finance

4 Ways to Save on Healthcare Costs

Advertiser Disclosure Comments 0 Comments

Once upon a time, many of us had a health insurance plan that gave us most of what we needed for a $10 or $20 co-pay.

That’s no longer true: many of us now are on insurance plans with a high deductible, a high co-pay, out of network, out of pocket — or paying a percentage of whatever costs we incur.

Come January, a couple of things will happen. First, the new health plans bought under the Affordable Care Act come into effect, covering a percentage of your costs (bronze plans cover 60%, silver 70%). That makes it important for people to know: 60% of what? Second, people who have never been on high-deductible plans will join the increasing number of people who have such plans, and will now learn of the new realities. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers Touchstone survey suggested that 44% of employers would offer only a high-deductible plan in 2014, up from 17% in 2013.

Prices vary, by a lot, and it’s increasingly important for you to be aware of that.

So here are four radical and not-so-radical ways to save on healthcare costs.

1. Don’t Use Your Insurance (and Always Ask What Stuff Costs)

Or, better, compare the price insurance will pay with the price you would pay out of pocket if paying cash. How? Ask the provider for a cash or self-pay rate. Ask to pay in advance, or if there’s a prompt-pay discount.

Here’s an example from Gilles Frydman, a co-founder of SmartPatients.com, an online community where cancer patients and caregivers learn from each other about treatments, trials, the latest science and how it fits into their experiences. He had a nasty fall last summer; early treatment with a CT scan showed nothing serious. The pain persisted, and after a few months his provider wanted a new X-ray.

“I looked for a local X-ray place and asked on the phone how much would the X-rays be, if I paid cash,” he wrote in an email. “When I went there, I was asked to sign a document stating that I would not file for any further insurance reimbursement, if I paid cash. The reason: The cash price is 1/3 of the regular price sent to insurance companies, which I am sure, then argue to pay 1/3 of the original price.”

Peggy Zuckerman, who conquered kidney cancer, had a similar experience with her CT scans in early 2012. The billed price to the insurance company was $8,010, and her responsibility under her insurance plan was $4,074.85. The cash price, she learned after the fact, was $930.

2. Keep Good Records (and Always Ask What Stuff Costs)

This can be especially fruitful with prescription costs. Moyra Phillips of Huntsville, Ala., keeps a binder with records of what medications people in her family are taking. Many pharmacies post or print lists of prices for common drugs; she keeps a printout of current prices in that binder, and takes that with her to doctor’s appointments and pharmacy visits.

She says it’s easy that way to show a medication to a provider or pharmacist, ask the current price, and ask if there’s another medication that would serve as well. Pharmacies and insurance plans can change prices frequently, so being able to show alternatives has allowed her to save hundreds of dollars.

Insurance can be a downside here, too; she has a medication that had a $20 copay at one pharmacy, but could be bought for $8.90 cash without insurance at another pharmacy. An increasing number of pharmacies at big-box stores (Publix, Winn-Dixie) offer some free medications, while others have low-cost medications. Costco is famous for low prices, and Target, Walmart, Walgreens, Kroger and other chains have deals, too. Also, don’t overlook your local independent pharmacy.

3. Use the Growing Number of Online Tools

You’re not going to be price-shopping for emergency care or big-ticket items. But for places where you can choose, there are ways to find out what things will cost. There are medication price sites like goodrx.com and needymeds.com; there are price comparison sites for procedures, too. Our tools at clearhealthcosts.com give cash or self-pay rates for common procedures at a range of providers in seven U.S. metro areas, and also shopping tools including the Medicare rate for a given procedure anywhere in the U.S. You can compare these results with other price transparency sites like faircaremd.com (a bid/ask marketplace like eBay); fairhealthconsumer.org (gives ballpark prices); healthcarebluebook.com (finds what it describes as “fair prices” in your area); newchoicehealth.com (you tell them what you want and they promise to find a price for you).

4. Take Charge of Your Health and Wellness

People who are actively involved in their healthcare have better health, and that — no surprise — is very cost-effective. Understand your treatment and your costs. One good way to do that, especially if you have something complicated going on: join a reputable online community of people who are knowledgeable about your issues.

Frydman calls it the network effect, which he saw first in ACOR — the first cooperative of online communities for cancer e-patients, which he created in 1995, when his wife was diagnosed with cancer — and now at SmartPatients.

“These networks of smart patients, suffering from serious diseases and working together with some of the best experts in their disease have revolutionized the care and the scientific knowledge about their disease,” he said.

Frydman cites examples of a group that built a centralized tissue bank for a rare cancer, lead to significant scientific discovery related to immune reactions, and another group that contributed to a rapid-fire study of a large patient population on the relative danger and prevalence of a significant, unreported adverse event. That study led to a significant change in labeling information.

There’s another value of these groups — which also include patientslikeme.com, psychcentral.com, the Society for Participatory Medicine, and others — they provide a place for people to gather online and talk about, among other things, treatments and prices.

There’s an active conversation out there among peers about how to save money. Join in. You’ll be glad you did.

Image: ziquiu

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team