There’s good news and not-so-good news when it comes to healthcare costs. The good news is that increases in the cost of healthcare coverage have slowed down. The not-so-good news is that costs are still rising. The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation’s annual Employer Health Benefits Survey found that costs rose 3 percent in its 2016 survey, down from 4 percent the previous year.
Premiums vs. Deductibles
“Annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $18,142 this year,” the report says, “with workers on average paying $5,277 towards the cost of their coverage.” The study is that deductibles continue to rise, which means employees pay more out of pocket before benefits kick in. Employers reported that a 12 percent rise in deductibles, and for the first time more than half of all insured employees have deductibles greater than $1,000.
The rise in health costs is frustrating for individuals and families because the costs seem to be out of control. There are some ways you can reduce your healthcare costs, according to the Consumer Healthcare Alliance, a trade association for discount healthcare providers.
Do Your Research
One suggestion is to carefully review your options during open enrollment. One study found that most people spend an hour or less selecting their plan, with most automatically selecting the same coverage as the prior year. There may be opportunities to save with a different plan offered by your employer, especially if you have family coverage and something has changed in your family situation. You may be paying for coverage that you no longer need.
Look at Membership Programs
Discount insurance providers (disclosure: these are the companies that belong to the Consumer Healthcare Alliance) may have a better deal for some insurance products. Discount insurers offer supporting healthcare insurance like vision, dental, alternative medicine, and more, often at a lower price than through your company. The alliance claims that these membership programs offer 20 – 60 percent savings on supplemental services.
Pay Attention to Prescriptions
If you take regular medications, you may be able to cut some costs by switching to 90-day prescriptions instead of the 30-day prescriptions ordered by most doctors. These used to be only offered by mail order services, but some brick and mortar drugstores now offer 90-prescription in-store. Also, there can be surprising differences in costs at different pharmacies. Consumer Reports called 200 pharmacies throughout the United States and found that, “prescription drug prices can vary widely from retailer to retailer, even within the same ZIP code.” How big are the price differences? “Drugs could cost as much as 10 times more at one retailer versus another.” Finally, many current members of the military and veterans are entitled to free medication at military facilities.
Shop Around for Lab Tests
Lab tests and other diagnostic testing costs can also vary widely from provider to provider. Hospitals often offer the worst deals because they have to cover the cost of uninsured patients, and have to stay open 24 hours a day in most cases. Many physicians reflexively write lab orders for the local hospital, but it pays to shop around. Everything from MRIs to simple blood tests can be much more expensive at a hospital. One woman reported that a private lab quoted her a cost of $260 for prescribed tests, while the local medical center would charge $1850 for the same tests.
Take Control of What You Can
Yes, it can be frustrating to see healthcare costs rise, but there are some expenses that are in your control. In many cases, it is well worth the effort to make sure you’re getting the best deal available, and that you’re not paying for coverage you don’t need.