Managing High Health Care Costs on Your Family’s Budget

July 22, 2012 in health care costs, Health Insurance, Hospital Bills, Insurance Bills, Medical Care, Medical Debt

Recent news on the costs of health care, in the U.S. and around the world, is focusing on what experts call “double digit levels” of annual increases. This is bad news for us, and troubling for the country as a whole. What it translates to is annual increases over 10%, where health care costs could conceivably double in a decade. Since this kind of price spike has been going on for a while already, many American families already consider major medical care to be priced above their ability to afford it.

Who Pays the Bill? 

Part of the particular desperation that has surrounded the American medical industry in the past few years has to do with who usually pays the bill.

In the past, employer group plans provided coverage for the majority of Americans. A few decades ago, this model was built on stable, long-term contracts between workers and companies, where those who stayed loyal to a business could expect to keep a job for life. Also, employers paid a major part of all premium costs.

In the present, however, we’ve felt the rise of health care prices. First, employers started to lower the premium amounts they were willing to pay. As jobs went overseas, employers laid off workers. Then, as the economy grew weaker, more lost jobs. An unemployment rate of over 10% means much more than lost wages: it means that many thousands of American families are suddenly left without coverage.

Meanwhile, the group plans that are left often do not pay the majority of premiums and often include high deductibles, which are also extremely expensive for the average family. In fact, some employers hardly pay anything toward premiums at all, while others provide “mini-medical” plans or other virtually useless coverage, or move full-time positions to part-time and thus avoid offering plans.

What Can You Do?

In response to these major financial challenges, experts have come up with some common recommendations including the following:

  • Utilize a Health Savings Account (HSA) plan – using these plans means you can pay for many types of medical care, tax-free. With a variety of options, carefully research and compare plans.
  • Monitor medical bills for accuracy – experts reveal that many medical bills contain huge errors; double-checking could save you a lot of money.
  • Use coupons – while brand name prescription drugs are expensive, taking advantage of coupons, other discounts or generics can result in significant savings. For specific conditions, you may also find additional savings directly from the drug manufacturer. Check with your doctor and do a web search.
  • Challenge facility costs – hospitals will routinely charge outrageous prices for items like tissues and toothpaste, so bring what you can from home and ask about what other charges may show up on your bill.
  • Check in-network vs. out-of-network status – this is a big one for avoiding insurance denials and huge bills from doctors who ‘do not participate’ in your insurance network. This also extends to the facility itself.

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