The number of uninsured and underinsured employees in the United States remains high even with options like the Affordable Care Act (ACA). With changes to the insurance landscape pending, a portion of working Americans could lose access to adequate medical and dental insurance in the near future.
So, how can you stretch an already tight budget in order to afford quality healthcare for yourself or your family?
While it’s certainly a challenging issue, there are a number of practical things nearly every household can do to help save on healthcare costs when insurance isn’t a viable option.
Research is key to understanding insurance
A study conducted just last year indicated that, “33 percent of millennials have never had employer-based health insurance, and a full 11 percent aren’t insured at all. Worse, they don’t know what insurance options are available, or how to understand them.”
No doubt, similar numbers can be applied to older generations, including seniors, who can struggle to navigate increasingly digital documentation and application processes. This isn’t a surprising statistic: insurance has always been a fairly complex topic. However, it underlines the fact that detailed research — with the help of a professional if possible — is key to understanding what options are available and how to take advantage of them.
A great place to start your investigation is with your local Health and Human Resources (HHR) department (specific department names may vary) which is often organized on a county level. Professionals at HHR are knowledgeable regarding health-related benefits available to citizens of the county as well as regional, state, and potentially federal programs that may be able to help you and your family obtain affordable medical and dental care or coverage.
Additionally, if any no- or low-cost clinics are available in the area for immediate needs, they should be able to direct you to the closest options.
Free and low-cost health and dental clinics
An excellent option made available in most communities is some form of subsidized health clinic for low-income families or those with other special needs. In some cases, these kinds of clinics are open to the public, but more often patients must meet various qualifications that may include income restrictions, age requirements, and restrictions based on where you live.
If you qualify as a patient, these kinds of clinics can offer quality medical and dental care at a fraction of the price you would pay at a local private office or going to the emergency room. And, in some cases, they have emergency or same-day appointments available if an unexpected need arises.
One of the few downsides of using clinics is that you may not be able to choose from a long list of dentists to select the one you’re most comfortable with.
Negotiating your medical bill
"A great place to start your investigation is with your local Health and Human Resources (HHR) department (specific department names may vary) which is often organized on a county level. "
If you do choose to go to a private office — whether because you’re unable to qualify for a clinic, or because you’re more comfortable visiting your chosen dentist — you may have flexibility to review and negotiate “normal fees” for services.
Like any commercial business, doctors and dentists are in competition with other practices in the area for a finite supply of patients. Since that’s the case, some may be willing to negotiate with you for reasonable fee reductions in order to gain or keep you as a patient.
The worst they can say is “no,” and, if you’re willing and able to go elsewhere, the possibility still exists that another office will say “yes!”
Medical and dental discount programs
Many offices offer various incentive programs and discount offers to individuals who remain a patient for a certain time period (usually a year).
Additionally, a number of established discount programs exist that make it possible for patients to save significantly on medical care, dental care, prescriptions, and more by choosing providers that participate with the discount plan. The monthly or annual membership fees for these programs are generally low, and they don’t involve restrictions, extra fees, or limitations that many insurance plans require.
For example, the Dental Solutions discount plan offers 20-50 percent off normal retail costs of both standard and advanced services at participating dentists nationwide, with the entire household included for just $9.95 per month. The same program can be upgraded to include numerous health and wellness discounts like prescriptions, vision care, chiropractic, and more with the Wellness Complete program.
A penny saved is a penny earned
Of course, the simplest way to afford to obtain adequate healthcare is to save your money.
Wise budgeting is the most effective way to make sure there’s money left over at the end of the day, week, and month, that can be set aside for both planned and unexpected expenses down the road.
After researching thoroughly, you should be able to estimate what it’s going to cost to obtain the necessary annual preventive care (such as an annual physical exam, semiannual oral health exam and cleaning, and purchasing any ongoing needed prescriptions). Simply break that amount into 12 equal portions and you have the basis for a monthly health savings goal. Add 20% to that number to anticipate unexpected health expenses, and you will be better prepared to afford the cost of keeping you or your family healthy.
Focus on preventive care and healthy living
Finally, saving money in the long run involves controlling how much you need to spend on acute and chronic health concerns.
So, logically, investing time and effort in inexpensive but highly valuable preventive healthcare and a healthy lifestyle can provide a real return on investment, especially over the long term. Here are some things all of us can do to make sure we’re not unnecessarily harming or wearing down our bodies or our immune systems, and therefore, not spending more than we need to on healthcare.
- Eat a balanced, nutritious diet
- Take a multivitamin
- Exercise regularly
- Do not smoke
- Wash your hands regularly
- Wear sunscreen
- Wear appropriate protective gear when playing sports, working in hazardous conditions, etc.
- Buckle up when you’re in a vehicle
- Attend annual or semiannual medical and dental preventive care visits
- Try to avoid or reduce stress
Following these tips and taking advantage of the other budgeting and saving recommendations in this article will put you in an excellent position to be able to afford quality healthcare for you and your family, even if medical and dental insurance are currently out of reach.