5 tips to help make health care more affordable

There are many factors to think about when you’re choosing a health plan — and the cost is often a big one.

How frequently you use medical services, how you access care and how you save to pay for it can all affect your overall health care expenses. The use of digital tools and online resources can help, too.

Here are five tips to think about:

1. Consider how often you use health care services

For most health plans, you pay a monthly premium for a policy. Generally, the higher the premium, the lower your out-of-pocket costs — and vice versa. Out-of-pocket costs may include charges like copayments, deductibles and coinsurance.

If you use health care more often, it may make sense to pay a little more each month in your premium, so you don’t have to dig as deep every time you need care. If you’re generally healthy and rarely visit a doctor or a hospital, it may make sense to choose a plan with lower premiums. Just remember: In return for those lower premiums, your out-of-pocket costs will typically be higher when you do get care.

2. Verify that doctors and clinics are in your network

Your health care network includes the doctors, hospitals, clinics and other suppliers your insurer has contracted with to deliver medical services — usually at a discounted rate. This rate is why you’ll likely pay less when you see a health care provider who’s in the network. For out-of-network providers, your insurance may cover only a fraction of the cost of care or nothing at all.

To check if a doctor or facility is in your network, search the provider database on your insurer’s website or app, or call the number on your health plan ID card.

3. Look for cost-comparison tools

Some health plans offer online resources that help you understand what you may pay for care before it happens. For instance, UnitedHealthcare members can sign into their health-plan account to find:

  • Personalized cost estimates for care providers and facilities in their network
  • Quality ratings and patient reviews for care providers, hospitals or facilities
  • Average costs for specific treatments in their area

Worth noting: Some health plans are being built around upfront pricing, including Surest plans offered by UnitedHealthcare. The plans eliminate deductibles and coinsurance and list single, all-in prices for more than 490 services. This enables members to review and consider their options before deciding on care or scheduling an appointment. 

4. Consider virtual care for a range of health care needs

Virtual visits may cost less than an in-person appointment and may save you time because they can be done on a phone, tablet or computer. While once thought of only as an alternative to in-person urgent care, technology is making it possible to get many other services virtually, including:

5. Have a plan for a sudden illness or injury

Emergency rooms are equipped for serious events like chest pains, shortness of breath and seizures. Other non-life-threatening issues can often be addressed faster and for far less expense at an urgent care clinic in your area. 

While an ER visit costs an average of $2,200, an urgent care appointment for things like sprains, skin rashes or flu-like symptoms may be $180. Virtual visits for nonemergency issues average only $50 and can be useful for things like sore throat, stomachache, pink eye and more.

One more thing

Some employers are offering health plans that include a health savings account (HSA) option. An HSA is a personal savings account, specifically for health-related expenses, paired with a high-deductible health plan. HSAs offer a triple tax advantage: Money is deposited pre-tax from your paycheck, accrues interest tax-free and is not taxed when withdrawn if funds are used for qualified health-related expenses.

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