Elisabeth is a 13-time Emmy winner, a critically acclaimed personal finance author, and a 20-year consumer advocate for programs such as Good Morning America and The Dr. Oz Show. Connect with her via Twitter @ElisabethLeamy and on her website, Leamy.com.
When The Dr. Oz Show asked me to help gin up a segment called “21 Ways to Stay Healthy Even When You’re Broke,” I was psyched because this is my sweet spot. I love being savvy and saving money. In fact, I submitted so many ideas that we couldn’t fit all of them on the air, so that’s what this blog is for.
My absolute favorite tip became our grand finale on the show and that is to shop around for non-emergency medical procedures such as colonoscopies, mammograms, CT scans, MRIs, and more. You’d be amazed how facilities just a few blocks from each other charge totally different prices for the exact same procedure.
This is a great strategy for people without insurance, but also good advice for people with insurance if you have a high deductible you have to meet before that coverage kicks in; or if you, like me, want to keep costs down because you have what’s called “co-insurance,” where you pay a percentage of your care, rather than making a flat co-pay.
Sure enough, when we called 10 MRI facilities in a 10-mile radius, the most expensive wanted $2,681 for a low-back MRI. We called several more and were able to chip away at the price a little. But then we hit the jackpot! One facility right near the other one wanted just $400 for the exact same MRI. A $2,281 savings was achieved just by making a few phone calls.
Now, I’ll admit that when it comes to health-care savings—or any kind of savings—I have a bias. I like to find ways to save a ton of money easily instead of scrimping and struggling to save a teeny bit of money day in and day out. In fact, I wrote a book about this form of saving, called Save BIG. Shopping around for medical procedures is my kind of easy money. Here are a dozen more examples of health-care savings strategies that can save you at least a thousand dollars at a time:
- Raise your health insurance deductible as high as you can afford to.
- Choose a high-deductible health plan, which allows you to open a health savings account to save money for medical expenses pre-tax.
- If you are healthy, pay lower health-care premiums up front but a higher percentage when you go to the doctor.
- If you are young and healthy, you may also be able to get private insurance for less than your employer plan.
- Make sure your kid’s college isn’t charging for health insurance if they are covered by your policy—this is common!
- Go generic with your medications except for a handful of meds with a “narrow therapeutic index.”
- Choose an older medication that works well but is less expensive or try a different (less expensive) drug in the same class.
- Split pills: Buy larger dosage pills and cut them in half. Or grow pills: Buy one large dosage pill instead of a bunch of small dosage pills. (Ask your doctor if this is appropriate for the meds you take.)
- Get medications for free through a pharmaceutical assistance program.
- Get a discount on a hospital stay by offering to pay cash in advance for a flat fee.
- Hire a medical billing advocate to find and fight errors on your hospital bill.
- Apply for “free care funds” if you are unable to pay your hospital bills.