Ways to Save Money on Health Care if You are Uninsured or Underinsured
The following is a contribution from my good friend Kim at Eyes On The Dollar. If you’re interested in contributing to Frugal Rules, please consult our guidelines and contact us.
I think we can all agree that health care costs in America are out of control. Prices for insurance and costs of services continue to rise while the level of coverage that plans offer is on the decline. How on earth are we supposed to stay healthy when our insurance seems to cover next to nothing? What if we don’t have insurance? If you take the initiative, there are some ways to save money on health care when uninsured or underinsured.
Before I get too involved with helping you save money on health care, let me say how much I strongly believe that everyone needs at least major medical health insurance, preferably a health savings account type plan. Maybe it is expensive, but if you use some of John’s budgeting advice, I’m sure there is a way to fit it in. I literally see examples every day where people play the odds without health insurance and lose.
Just recently, we had a young, healthy patient in his early 20’s who came in because he was fiddling with a back pack, and a bungee cord popped him in the eye. Sadly, it caused a retinal detachment. He didn’t have health insurance because he wanted to save the money. Out of pocket costs to have retinal detachment surgery are around $15,000. The alternative is blindness. Going through life without health insurance is like driving way over the speed limit without a seatbelt.
Ways to Save on Health Care Costs
Stay Healthy-The number one way to keep health costs low is to stay healthy. Healthy does not mean that you’ve never been diagnosed with anything because you haven’t seen a doctor in 20 years. To stay healthy you need to have regular physicals, get regular dental care, and have eye exams more than once a decade. Healthy also means eating well, not smoking, not drinking too much, and exercising. \The excuse of having no time really is just an excuse. If we drove our cars into the ground, used a mixture of half gas and half water, and never got any maintenance checks, how well do you think our vehicles would run? Why is our health any different? If you take care of your body, teeth, and eyes, you’ll be in pretty good shape.
Routine Physicals-Even if you have crappy insurance, by law, it has to cover preventative medical care, like an annual physicals, immunizations, and mammograms and/or colonoscopies if your doctor recommends them. This is not subject to copays or deductibles. No one likes to turn their head and cough, but it’s much easier to take care of a problem if you catch it early.
Health Fairs- In Colorado, there is a network of health fairs all over the state that happen every spring. I would imagine that many states offer similar programs. Generally they are held in high school gyms or community centers. You can have many services done for free or low cost. Last winter, when I had my physical, my doctor recommended routine blood work. It would have cost over $300 to have it done in the office that day. I was able to have everything done at the health fair for $85. Plus, they offer screenings for blood pressure, hearing, skin cancer, and you get all kinds of free samples from local health care organizations. If something is wrong, it’s your job to take responsibility and follow up with a doctor, but it’s a great way to have some basics done at a low cost.
County Health Departments-I used to think the county health department was for really low income people, but it’s actually a community resource. If you don’t have health insurance, this can be a great place to get low cost immunizations, pre-natal care, child physicals, or even dental work. Offerings vary according to location and current funding, but it’s worth checking out if you need a service you can’t afford. Our health department offers all vaccines for $16, while they are usually over $100 at a private office. They also have programs to help you stay healthy, like nutrition or smoking cessation classes. It’s certainly worth doing a search to see if something you need might be provided there.
Community Health Clinics- Community Health Clinics have been around for years, but they seem to be growing, at least in our area. These clinics provide routine and chronic care with the hopes of preventing ER visits or hospitalizations by offering low cost coverage. They generally accept private insurance, state programs like Medicaid, and offer sliding scale fees for non-insured patients based on income. We actually have a clinic about 45 minutes from my home town that offers sliding scale dental, including major things like crowns and root canals. The down side is that you might have to wait several months for an appointment, so don’t wait until something is wrong to seek care.
Schools of Dentistry or Optometry-You can get excellent dental or eye care by going to school or university clinics. These facilities have the latest technologies and often employ some of the greatest scientific minds in each respected field. Yes, you will have to be examined by a student, but there is always a staff doctor nearby who will double check each test. Optometry schools are wonderful places for chronic disease care, like glaucoma treatment or vision therapy for kids with things like lazy eyes or learning disabilities. Costs of care are a fraction of what you would find in the private sector. The worst part is that the exam takes two to three hours, and you will have to be dilated, no exceptions. However, it is guaranteed to be the most thorough exam of your life! If you live in a major city or can stay with friends and family who do, this can be a great way to get dental and vision care.
If you do not have insurance, having your prescriptions filled can be very expensive. Luckily, it is possible to save on your prescription costs by following a few tips. For starters, you should ask about generic drugs, as about eighty percent of the drugs available on the market have genetic versions that work just as well and cost less. You might also consider buying from a Canadian pharmacy online, as their drugs can save you about fifty percent per purchase. In some cases, it is even possible to request samples from your health care provider. This lessens the amount of the drug that you are forced to buy.
Whether we like it or not, health care is not going to get cheaper, and people can’t stay healthy by hoping for the best and sticking their heads in the sand. We all need to be our own health care advocates. It might take some research or creativity, but if you don’t have an insurance plan that meets all your needs, it’s worth looking into alternatives to save some money on health care. After all, what’s more valuable than your health?
Kim is a private practice optometrist who blogs about her journey toward 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.
Editor’s note: I love Kim’s sentiment here. Health care in the States is an issue we all have to deal with, which is why some on her money saving tips are so helpful. Just like we aim to care for our finances it’s even more important to care for our physical well-being.
Photo courtesy of: Zdenko Zivkovic