Trips to the doctor's office are expensive. They have every right to be. Doctors, nurses, and other staff members at these offices provide critical services to the public. They keep us healthy, diagnose any problems, and help treat any issues that may arise. Doing so requires specialized knowledge and equipment.
As such, equipment and expertise is not cheap. Neither are the costs associated with a trip to the doctor. Fortunately many are covered in part by health insurance, even state and federal governments get involved. Come tax season you may have quite a few write-offs if you made a few trips to the doctor's office.
But as much as these help to reduce medical costs, it is still important to find ways to save money at the doctor's office. When you factor in varying degrees of coverage from health insurance, going into healthcare facilities with a sound financial plan is imperative. It's not like we can prevent getting sick entirely (though that would be nice)!
Not all about visiting the doctor is doom-and-gloom, though. You can even prevent future illness and costs by doing so. Isn't that a nice thought? So as nobody out there can avoid the doctor completely, here are some tips for saving money at the doctor's office. Let's hope you don't need to use them too often.
Know Your Insurance Plan
Whether you have private or public health insurance you need to know your plan. This lets you know what is covered and how much it'll cost you. Of particular importance is what medical practitioners in your area accept your insurance. Fortunately many health insurance websites provide a list of the practitioners covered in your area.
Select a practitioner covered by your health insurance before you go and visit an office. To be more thorough call the office yourself and verify that you will be covered. That way you can go in feeling comfortable with a lower up-front payment.
Also important is to know how much your health insurance will cover for a variety of health-related costs. These include copays, hospitalization costs, mental health services, prescriptions, laboratory work, etc. Many health insurance plans cover most, if not all, essential health benefits.
There are also a few important terms to understand prior to visiting a doctor. By having a grasp on these terms and what your plan covers you will be better prepared to make informed decisions at the doctor's office.
- Deductible: A deductible is how much you will have to pay out-of-pocket before your health insurance plan begins paying for certain medical costs.
- Copayment: A copayment is the amount you will pay up-front for a doctor's visit.
- Coinsurance: The amount you will need to pay for a health care service covered by your health insurance plan.
Many more terms and facts can be found at the HealthCare.gov website.
When you visit a doctor – or even before you visit – don't hesitate to ask questions. You can find out a lot about associated up-front costs by calling your local practitioner or health insurance provider and speaking with them before you visit.
When it comes to your visit make sure you ask your doctor questions about what they're doing, why they're doing it, and what other steps are necessary. It is your doctor's duty to be transparent with you about tests ordered, costs, and alternative options.
Speaking of alternative options, often times there are generic drugs offered at much cheaper rates than well-known brands. Make sure you ask your doctor about them as they can save you a lot of money, especially if you will need these refilled. The best part? They are just as effective!
Outside of the doctor's office you can also talk with your health insurance representative. Ask them about what a particular procedure will cost, compare it to your deductible and coinsurance, and assess how you would like to proceed. Have an understanding of where you currently stand on all terms with your health insurance provider, too. That way you'll know how much you still have left to cover before they take the reigns.
Also verify with them before undergoing any major procedure. There are times at which an insurance provider will not cover a particular health issue. Don't get caught fronting the bill for a $1,000+ procedure. Verify. Always verify.
Lastly, ask about any discounts. This can be done with your doctor and health insurance representative. Doctor's are not mean or greedy. They are there to help you! Often times they will consider your circumstances and look to save you money. They know their services are expensive, too.
Schedule Preventative Visits
When it comes to your health and saving money at the doctor's office you should be proactive instead of reactive. This means scheduling regular check-ups that may reveal some problems before they get too serious. And if there are no problems doctors will advise you on best practices to keep living a healthy life.
More than that, by visiting the doctor regularly you will get inside access to their advice. No doctor wants to see a patient of theirs in an emergency situation. That's why they will look at all your information and be honest with you about where your health stands. If they are concerned about particular habits or tests they will work with you to establish means of preventing future emergencies. It may seem counterintuitive to save money on doctor's visits by scheduling more, but by doing so you will avoid higher-cost emergency or health situations.
Also do some at-home preventative health maintenance. What does this look like?
Healthy eating, remaining active, and taking time to rest. Establishing a healthy lifestyle outside of the doctor's office will pay dividends in saving you time and money. While there will always be unforeseen health emergencies, a little TLC at home can do wonders in preventing major healthcare costs.
Consider a Flexible Spending Account
A flexible spending account (FSA) should make many individuals with recurrent health care costs smile. Often a type of employee benefits, FSAs are a pre-tax contribution towards an individual's health care costs in a given year. An FSA takes a portion of your pre-tax income and puts it into an account that can be used for doctor visits and other costs related to healthcare. This means your taxable income is reduced, and you will have money set aside for doctor's visits. It's a win-win situation.
What's more is the money is available as a lump-sum at the start of the year. While there will be a portion of your paycheck taken out each pay cycle, you are free to use your allotted FSA balance all-at-once or over the course of the year.
It is important to note one drawback of a FSA account. If you don't use it, you lose it. Any balance remaining in the account at the end of the year is forfeit. Fortunately there are many ways to apply your FSA balance. Whether for yourself, spouse or others covered by your insurance having an FSA account is a huge benefit offered by many employers.
Visit the Right Clinic for the Health Issues You Are Having
Emergency rooms are expensive. They are frantic. Unfortunately many go to emergency rooms when unnecessary. This leads to financial strain, stress, and the perception that all medical services are overpriced.
When suffering a medical condition or needing to see a doctor, make sure you are visiting the right clinic. For minor aches, pains, infections, and health concerns that are not life threatening or serious, visit your local doctor's office or urgent care clinic.
Urgent care clinics in particular are a great resource for those wanting to avoid the high costs of emergency rooms. These facilities treat patients with more pressing matters than those covered by a normal health practitioner. Staff available are knowledgeable, responsive, and know how to act quick. They will be able to assess, diagnose, and treat more immediate health complications such as sudden fever, illness, cuts, burns, and other moderate yet treatable issues.
Many urgent care facilities are covered by your health insurance, too. Once again it is important to do a little research into what your health insurance policy covers regarding urgent medical needs. Find a local office, know its hours of operation (many are now 24/7), and for non-life-threatening issues visit them instead of emergency rooms.
Nobody likes getting sick. Everybody will. At some point or another you're going to have to visit a doctor's office, and at that time you'll want to save money and budget appropriately. Make sure you know your insurance plan and what it covers, have an understanding of key industry terms, ask plenty of questions regarding services, diagnosis and tests, opt-in to a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) if available, and make sure to visit the appropriate clinic for your problems. Following these tips will keep your physical, mental, and financial health right on track.