How to Save Money on Your Family’s Medical Care
By Amanda of mandajuice and The Naked Ledger.
Life with kids has never been cheap, but with health care costs on the rise, it’s more expensive than ever. Until the system gets a much needed re-boot, here are five ways to save money and still keep your family healthy.
1. Study your plan
Remember that half-inch thick booklet that came with your insurance cards? Well it’s time to get better acquainted with it. Pull out a highlighter pen and sit down with your plan benefit explanation and read it carefully until you understand it well. If you have questions (and you will), call the toll-free number on your insurance cards or make an appointment with the your employee-benefits office. Understanding your plan is the only way you can make informed decisions about your health care.
2. Pick your providers carefully
If you have a choice in providers (e.g., doctor), choose wisely. Sure, recommendations from friends are the best place to start, but you’ll want to call the doctors’ offices directly and specifically check that your preferred provider is also a preferred by your insurance. Sometimes there are different levels of coverage too, so just because someone “takes” your insurance doesn’t always mean that you’ll be fully covered. After you’ve checked with the provider, double-check again with your insurance company by calling to verify your coverage. Do this before you ever step foot in a medical office and you can save yourself hundreds.
Particularly with children, make sure your children’s vaccinations and “well-visits” are covered by your insurance. If you’re seeing a doctor “Out-Of-Network” double-check, as there are many of those visits and such scheduled the first few years.
3. Ask for an estimate
This might be TMI, but I was recently billed over $200 for a wart removal procedure I had assumed would be covered by my insurance. It wasn’t and I’ve spent months fighting my insurance company about the bill. If I’d been smart enough to simply ask my doctor what the charge would be for the procedure before he did it, I would have saved his time, my money and several months of paperwork hell and bought myself a bottle of wart-be-gone for less than the price of a co-pay. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but feel free to learn from my mistake and ask for an estimate for every procedure your doctor recommends.
4. Don’t be afraid to choose an HMO
If you’re offered a choice and you aren’t too attached to being allowed to pick specific doctors, then you’d be wise to consider choosing an HMO. Not only are HMO’s far easier to navigate, they’re almost always cheaper, especially for things like surgery and childbirth. Even with excellent PPO (preferred provider option) coverage, each of my births ended up costing my family over $2,000 out-of-pocket. If we’d had HMO coverage instead, it would’ve been closer to $200. Some of the best doctors I’ve ever had were randomly assigned to me by an HMO, so don’t let that part scare you off.
5. Question authority!
Never be afraid to ask questions – about your plan, your coverage, your doctor, your co-pay, your bill – but most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask “Do I really need this?” Avoiding unnecessary appointments and procedures is your wallet’s first line of defense. Before taking your sick child to the doctor, call the advice nurse and ask if it’s necessary. Ask what the doctor would likely do or prescribe given your child’s symptoms. I can’t count how many times I’ve wasted a co-pay to take my mostly-healthy child to the doctor only to have him pick up a virus while we were there. Trust your instincts, but remember that calling the advice nurse is almost always free.