Getting the right health insurance setup takes time and — in most cases — money. Once you have your insurance in place, though, you can feel confident that you have most of your health-care bases covered.
Still, to ease the financial aches and pains of augmenting your coverage, it’s nice to look for savings elsewhere. Here are some money-saving tips that will help you pay for health care and inject cash back into your wallet right away.
Get paid for passing on coverage.
Many employers offer cash to opt out of their health-care plan — a good option if coverage is available on a spouse’s plan or if you stay with your coverage but have your spouse’s plan cover your dependents. Savings: The average opt-out award is $1,036 for individuals and $1,423 for families, according to the Employers Resource Council.
Kick the nicotine habit and cough up less on premiums.
Some employers charge workers who smoke (or have a tobacco-using dependent on their health plan) more for premiums. Quit the habit or enroll in a smoking-cessation program. Savings: $100 a month on premiums.
Brag about how much you can bench-press.
It’s cheaper to insure healthy employees, and many companies offer cash incentives to those who get fit. Fight the flab by enrolling in a weight-loss program, or agree to a health-risk appraisal and see whether your weekend-warrior workout is paying off. Savings: $300 cash incentive a year.
Buy mail-order maintenance meds.
Mail-order prescription programs (the easiest choice for drugs you take every day) can cut pharmacy co-pays by 15% to 35%. Savings: On the average prescription, you’ll pocket around $90 a year.
Stick with your plan’s drug prefs.
Generic (average co-pay: $11) and “preferred prescriptions” ($25) are covered at a higher rate than the non-preferred brands ($43). Bring the printed list of preferred drugs to your doctor appointments. If a generic or nonpreferred drug isn’t as effective, discuss workarounds with your doc. For instance, one Fool saved $100 a month by getting monthly allergy shots (covered under the plan) in lieu of her nonpreferred medication. Savings: $32 a month by opting for generic blood-pressure medication over a nonpreferred drug.
Take a bite out of dental costs.
Using in-network dentists will save you 15% to 35% of what you’ll pay to out-of-network practitioners. If your employer doesn’t cover your pearly whites, shop for a discount plan (start at nadp.org). This isn’t insurance, per se, but it’s akin to buying a pass (cost: about $10 to $20 a month) to dentists who offer services to members at set discounts. Savings: Discount plans can save you 20% to 30% on routine care, or $87.50 on two cleanings a year. On pricey procedures, the savings can be significant — for example, on restorative work, you’d pay $450 for a crown versus $750.
Pay in-network prices for out-of-network care.
You don’t have to settle for second-best. Convince your insurance company’s pre-certification unit that your doctor of choice is more experienced or a better bet for your long-term health. Or simply negotiate the price: According to a Harris Interactive poll, haggling directly with the provider for a discount on a high-cost dental procedure or hospital stay worked for two out of three patients; asking the doc for a better deal worked for three out of five. Savings: In-network coverage can cut your tab by 50%.
Big bills? Write ’em off.
If medical costs for you or your dependents add up to more than 7.5% of your gross income, they’re deductible, according to IRS rules. Savings: Lowering your taxable income means a bigger tax refund — a small consolation for a bad health year, but some consolation nonetheless.