We all know that healthcare costs can add up quickly. In 2018, the average American spent approximately $11,000 on healthcare, and we know that number has only gone up from there. Particularly at a time when money is tight, people struggle with the cost of healthcare, let alone unexpected medical expenses, which can often be financially devastating. With this in mind, here are some tips to help lower healthcare costs and still get the medical attention you need. 

Opt for Generics
When it comes to prescriptions, ask your doctor if there’s a comparable generic alternative to brand name drugs. Many insurance plans have higher copays for brand name drugs, so a generic medicine with the same effects could save you money. Sometimes there’s even an over-the-counter alternative, particularly for supplements such as iron pills, prenatal vitamins, or medications for gastrointestinal issues. 

Shop Around
It’s also a good idea to shop around before filling your prescriptions. Sometimes the pharmacy you’ve always gone to isn’t your best choice. Calling several pharmacies to see what they’re charging for the same medication can lower your costs, and don’t forget about big box stores such as Costco, BJs, Wal-Mart, and Target. These stores tend to offer low prices on generic prescriptions. 

Often pharmaceutical reps will provide doctors’ offices with samples to promote their newest drugs. It can’t hurt to ask your doctor if they happen to have a sample on hand. 

Mail-Order Prescriptions
If you take a particular drug regularly, it can pay to find out if your insurance has a mail-order option. Mail-order prescriptions often come in a 90-day supply for a good deal less than you’d pay at the pharmacy. 

Discounts and Patient Assistance Programs
Sometimes drug makers will provide a coupon or discount card to reduce the cost of brand name drugs. This can be helpful if there isn’t a suitable generic equivalent. Some drugmakers, nonprofit organizations, and state-sponsored programs offer patient assistance to help individuals handle their medical costs. To qualify, you typically must provide evidence of financial need, but you can significantly reduce your healthcare costs if you are accepted. 

Look Over Medical Bills
Doctors’ offices and labs can and often do make mistakes in billing. It’s a good idea to look over your bills before paying them since the Medical Billing Advocates of America claim that approximately 80% of medical bills contain errors. If you find an issue, don’t be afraid to call the billing department for clarification. Be persistent and don’t give up until you have a satisfactory answer. 

Know Your Benefits & Appeal Denied Claims
If you’re confused about your health insurance, you’re not alone. A recent national survey indicates that one in four people have skipped out on receiving medical care because they weren’t sure what their plan covered. While health insurance can sometimes be confusing, it’s vital to know what your policy covers. Of particular importance is understanding which providers are considered “in-network” versus “out-of-network” because those outside of your plan’s network often cost more. Similarly, it’s essential to know whether your plan requires certain services or procedures to be pre-approved or whether you must obtain a referral from your primary care provider to be covered.

If you have a health insurance claim denied, you don’t just have to fork over your money. Try appealing the decision first. Sometimes this will require your doctor to write a letter of medical necessity, and it may take some time to resolve, but most doctors are willing to help out with this. 

These days, telemedicine has become an excellent option for receiving much needed medical attention – and at a fraction of the cost! For minor health issues, telehealth is generally cheaper than in-person visits. According to UnitedHealthcare, the national median cost for a telehealth visit is $50. In comparison, minor issues treated at a doctor’s office, urgent care facility, or emergency room visit would run you $85, $130, and $740 respectively. The savings can be significant if you’re paying the full cost out of pocket before reaching your deductible. Even when it comes to co-pays, telehealth visits are generally cheaper than other types of care. 

According to Julie McCarter, vice president of product solutions at Cigna, says, “telehealth is a simple, fixed rate, which brings a level of predictability that other options do not offer.” Knowing in advance what you’ll pay for a visit can allow you to budget for healthcare more accurately. 

Stay Healthy
Perhaps it goes without saying, but the number one way to ensure lower healthcare costs is to stay healthy in the first place. Ensure you are getting enough exercise and sleep and that you’re eating a healthy diet. Simple steps like going for a walk each day can help to prevent chronic illness and keep you out of the doctors’ office. Seek care when you need it, and don’t put it off. 

By taking these steps, you’ll be well on your way to saving on your annual healthcare costs.