Health insur­ance is essen­tial to pro­tect­ing your health but the high cost of cov­er­age may leave you feel­ing sick.  Even after employ­ers pick up a sub­stan­tial amount of the cost, every year Amer­i­cans spend thou­sands of dol­lars on health­care while costs are con­tin­u­ing to rise. By tak­ing cer­tain steps, you can stretch your health­care dol­lars and still receive the care you need to stay healthy.

  1. Under­stand How Your Health Plan Works

Review your plan to learn how to max­i­mize your ben­e­fits.  You need to know what is cov­ered (and what is not!) and what pro­ce­dures you need to fol­low to ensure your claims will get paid.  Know what your copay­ment, coin­sur­ance and deductible costs are before your visit.

Most health insur­ance plans cov­er more of your costs if you use their pre­ferred or in-net­work doc­tors.  If you vis­it an out-of-net­work doc­tor or med­ical facil­i­ty, you’ll pay more and may end up being respon­si­ble for 100% of the bill.  Use your insurer’s online tools to search for in-net­work providers.

  1. Choose the Right Places to Get Care

Run­ning to the emer­gency room when you get sick after hours could drain your wal­let. All too often, those suf­fer­ing from minor ill­ness­es or injuries vis­it the ER when they don’t need to.  The ER should be your last resort — con­sid­er using more afford­able options like telemed­i­cine or an urgent care cen­ter instead.  You can still get the care you require in off-hours with­out hav­ing to sched­ule an appointment.

If you need surgery, you may save mon­ey by hav­ing it done at an ambu­la­to­ry sur­gi­cal cen­ter (ASC) which is a mod­ern health­care facil­i­ty focused on same-day sur­gi­cal care, includ­ing diag­nos­tic and pre­ven­tive pro­ce­dures.  Typ­i­cal­ly, these cen­ters charge less than a hospital.

  1. Use a Health Sav­ings Account (HSA) or Flex­i­ble Spend­ing Account (FSA)

Open­ing a HSA  or an FSA is a handy way to save for med­ical expens­es and reduce your tax­able income. They are like per­son­al sav­ings accounts but the mon­ey in them is used to pay for health care expens­es. HSAs are owned by you, earn inter­est, and can be trans­ferred to a new employ­er.  FSAs are owned by your employ­er, do not earn inter­est, and must be used with­in the cal­en­dar year.

  1. Ask Your Doc­tor About Remote Patient Mon­i­tor­ing (RPM)

RPM is the use of dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies to mon­i­tor and ana­lyze med­ical and oth­er health data from patients and elec­tron­i­cal­ly trans­mit this infor­ma­tion to health­care providers for assess­ment and, when nec­es­sary, rec­om­men­da­tions and instruc­tions. This type of mon­i­tor­ing is often used to man­age high-risk patients, such as those with acute or chron­ic health con­di­tions such as those with dia­betes, hyper­ten­sion and heart conditions.

  1. Use Your Pre­ven­tive Care Benefits

Many health plans pay the full cost for impor­tant pre­ven­tive care.  These reg­u­lar screen­ings, exams, and immu­niza­tions help detect or pre­vent dis­eases and med­ical prob­lems ear­ly when they are eas­i­er to treat.  Annu­al check-ups, mam­mo­grams (usu­al­ly after the age of 40), flu shots and colono­scopies (usu­al­ly 1 every 10 years after the age of 50) are exam­ples of pre­ven­tive care.  These checks can save you a lot of mon­ey because they catch prob­lems early.

Health insur­ance isn’t manda­to­ry — there’s no law requir­ing you to buy it — but, health insur­ance is an impor­tant part of stay­ing healthy, finan­cial­ly and phys­i­cal­ly.  Since most peo­ple who don’t have insur­ance made that deci­sion based on mon­ey instead of what is best for their health, they usu­al­ly don’t have doc­tor appoint­ments for the same rea­son – it’s too expen­sive.  But skip­ping rou­tine care can end up being more expen­sive than your pre­mi­ums, espe­cial­ly if you have seri­ous health issues that aren’t caught ear­ly.  Think of it like care main­te­nance: reg­u­lar­ly chang­ing your oil might be a has­sle but it is essen­tial to pre­vent a major break­down down the road.