A recent study proves something we have known all along: Medical expenses are unaffordable for many and have an impact in individual finances. Researchers at the University of Chicago surveyed over 1,300 adults. Here are a few of the findings:
30% report difficulty paying for basic necessities (food, heat, and housing) due to medical costs
36% say they have had to use up all or most of their savings
32% report borrowing money or increasing credit card debt
41% say they decreased contributions to a savings plan because of health care expenses
This is troubling for employers because it means plan members may forgo needed care -- which could lead to bigger health issues later. To that point, 40% of respondents say they skipped a recommended medical test or treatment in the last 12 months due to cost, and 32% were unable to fill a prescription or took less of a medication because of the cost.
So what can employers do to help their employees maximize their benefits and minimize out of pocket costs? Here are a few tips to share with your employees and their families:
- Take advantage of preventive services covered at 100%. For example, get a flu shot so you are less likely to get sick.
- Use in-network providers for the lowest possible out-of-pocket expense.
- Consult with a nurse for free by calling the nurse-line for a consultation before scheduling an appointment with a physician; it could save you the cost of an office visit
- Many plans include a telemedicine benefit. The cost of a telemedicine visit is usually around $40-$50, and can be scheduled at your convenience via phone or video chat.
- Investigate "convenience care” clinics in your area. Located in stores like Target, CVS, and Walgreens, they offer a limited number of services at a lower cost than urgent care or a physician office visit.
- When your doctor recommends a prescription drug, ask how much it costs and if there is an over-the-counter or generic option. Check a few different pharmacies for the best price.
- If a prescribed drug is very expensive and you have not used it before, ask whether you could have a smaller number of pills at first to be sure it works. Check to see if there are patient assistance programs to help defray the cost.
- Shop around for services and tests. A variety of tools exist to support comparison shopping; check with your insurance company for help.
- Some employers offer indemnity coverage -- policies that will pay a set dollar amount when you have an accident or are hospitalized. These low-cost coverages can provide peace of mind for those concerned about covering expenses before they meet their health plan’s high deductible.
- If you’ve moved to the high-deductible plan from a more expensive plan, take the savings from lower paycheck deductions and deposit them (tax-free!) in a health savings account. That way you will have some money set aside to help pay for care before you meet the deductible. Many employers will help fund your HSA.
- Take advantage of any opportunities to earn dollars for your HSA by participating in healthy activities like biometric screenings.