Whether you get your insurance through work, Medicare or buying a policy on your own, here are some key strategies for shopping for coverage that can reduce your out-of-pocket health care costs.
Understand your coverage. Most plans are still required to provide several kinds of preventive care without any cost-sharing, regardless of your deductible. Depending on your age, this might apply to blood-pressure, diabetes and cholesterol tests; mammograms and colonoscopies; and flu shots and routine vaccines. For a full list of preventive care benefits, visit www.healthcare.gov/coverage/preventive-care-benefits.
While you're reviewing the plan, look for other features, such as access to a flexible spending or health savings account. Many employers offer savings and incentive programs that reward you for using high-quality, cost-effective providers. Such programs may reduce your out-of-pocket expenses or waive your deductible for that visit or procedure.
Pick the right provider. Before you schedule a doctor's visit or a medical procedure, use the tools on your insurer's website, and ask the provider to confirm that they're included in your plan's network. If you're scheduling a procedure, check whether everyone involved -- from the doctor to the facility to the anesthesiologist -- will be covered in-network. If you're unlikely to hit your plan's deductible for the year, or you're going to a doctor who is out of network, see if you can get a discount for paying cash. You may pay less out of pocket than if you use insurance, and you may still be able to file a claim with your insurer afterward so that the cost can count toward your deductible, says Bill Kampine, senior vice president of HealthcareBluebook.com.
Many plans offer telemedicine services that can save you time and money if you need advice about a non-emergency complaint. You'll talk with a doctor or nurse via phone or video chat, and you can typically e-mail photos of a rash or other ailment. Doctors can prescribe medication if necessary. Costs for a telehealth consultation range from $10 to $40.
Save on drugs. Employers and insurers are offering more online tools and apps to help you look up drug costs, suggest generics and therapeutic alternatives, and show you how much you'll pay under your plan. You also might save money by ordering your drugs through the mail or using a preferred pharmacy. Mail-order pharmacies often provide a three-month supply of drugs for the same price as a one- or two- month supply at a traditional pharmacy.
Coupons and patient assistance programs that offer free or low-cost medicine for eligible individuals can also help. To find out about drug manufacturers' co-pay assistance programs and private foundations' patient assistance programs, go to NeedyMeds.org. Or visit GoodRx.com (or download the mobile app) for coupons for thousands of drugs, as well as information about lower-cost alternatives.
Kaitlin Pitsker is an associate editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. And for more information on this topic, visit Kiplinger.com.