Affordable Health Insurance – 7 Ways to Save Money on Medical Care

Affordable health insurance has become ever harder to come by in recent years. The rise in the number of Americans who are uninsured, as well as the shifting of health insurance from comprehensive coverage (e.g. HMOs) towards high-deductible plans and Health Savings Accounts, has led to an increased interest in the actual cost of medical care. In the past, most people have paid little attention to the prices hospitals charge for an MRI, for example. Fortunately, there are now many resources available to help you figure out how much health care expenses do and should cost. These tips will help save money for you and your insurance company! Health insurers may pass on their savings to you in the form of lower health insurance premiums.

Here are seven ways to shop smart when looking for affordable health care:

  1. Research online. Health care providers, including hospitals, in 33 states are required to post a list of their fees on the Internet. These are available on government websites. Keep in mind, however, that many fees are separated–as opposed to bundled–on this list. This is especially important in the case that you are planning to have a complicated procedure that involves the payment of multiple professionals, such as surgery. Meanwhile, some medical service providers in other states have decided to do so of their own volition. These fees can vary significantly, so shopping around is especially important.
  2. Ask your insurance company. They want to provide you with affordable health insurance that also saves them money. If you’re insured, call the members’ help line or log onto the patient website for information about a multitude of cost and quality measures for common diagnostic exams, visits, and medical procedures.
  3. Remember all facilities aren’t created equal. Specialized medical centers are generally less expensive than hospitals. This is because hospitals must charge higher fees for procedures in order to cover their overhead. On the other hand, a specialty center or clinic–such as a specialized imaging center–is smaller and focused on a narrower range of medical procedures. As a result, they are able to charge less for each procedure.
  4. Look for discounts. Some health care providers can have over 10 different pricing scales. The price you have to pay for a medical procedure often depends on which health insurance company, if any, is picking up the tab. If your insurer negotiated a better rate with a particular provider than it did, it’s a good idea to find out. Prices are usually higher for the uninsured, too.
  5. Use comparison-shopping websites. For other major purchases like cars, there have long been methods of determining the fair market value of the product. Recently, several websites have done the same for your most important health care purchases, including HealthCareBlueBook, PriceDoc, and OutOfPocket. These sites will help you figure out what different providers charge in your area.
  6. Negotiate! Especially if you are currently without affordable health insurance, many doctors and medical billing offices are willing to work with you. You can use the price quotes you found in the last step as a starting point. Also, there are often payment plans available to help you budget medical expenses more effectively.
  7. Beware of fees. One of the most common fees driving up insurance costs is the “facility fee” charged by many hospitals. They claim that it is necessary to charge several hundred dollars to pay for expansion and upkeep. Most insurance companies don’t cover it, and those that do are sure to be passing the cost onto you through higher premiums. Going to hospitals that have lower or non-existent facility fees means that you are more likely to have affordable health insurance. Similar fees also apply to doctor’s office affiliated with hospitals, so make sure to ask beforehand.

The current economic climate means that more people are seeing a reduction or elimination of their health insurance. The percentage of people in the U.S. with high-deductible insurance plans is at eight percent and growing, with an increasing number of employers passing more of the cost and responsibility for health care onto employees. For the unemployed, the situation is even more daunting. While healthcare reform is lurching through Congress, most major provisions wouldn’t take effect for years. However, the Internet has made the price of health care increasingly transparent, thereby allowing individuals and families to be smarter consumers. By using these resources and making good decisions, affordable health insurance will become a reality for more Americans.

In-Home Non-Medical Care – FAQ’s

Through the years of working with adult children and aging parents I have found that one of the barriers to starting services is due to a misunderstanding about non-medical in-home care. Some of the frequently asked questions are:

Is there any state oversight/regulations for non-medical in-home agencies?
At this time the state of Wisconsin has NO requirements for these agencies. Because of this it is important for the customer to be very cautious and ask the right questions when talking with an agency. Although franchise agencies may cost a little more, franchises are regulated by the corporate office and must maintain certain levels of protection for the clients.

Is the person coming into my home insured and bonded?
MOST agencies will provide some level of insurance but are not required to. The consumer can ask to see the provider’s certificate of insurance. The certificate will show levels of coverage and policy coverage dates. If you are requesting transportation services, the policy should also have a separate rider for non-owned autos.

How much should I expect to pay?
The latest Genworth Insurance study shows the Wisconsin state average for non-medical care is $18/hour. One has to balance the cost with the desire to remain at home. There may come a time when the cost exceeds other levels of care that are available.

How will I know the people coming into the home are trustworthy?
A reputable agency will do various background checks on their potential employees. This will include criminal and civil charges. If transportation services are included the agency should be requesting a copy of the employees insurance, driving record, and a copy of their drivers license. Agencies providing services for the Department of Health and Human Services are required to perform additional background checks.

Will I have to sign a contract?
Not all agencies require a contract. Contracts are generally created to benefit the agency, not the consumer. If you chose to sign a contract, study the contract very closely and read the details. Most require cancellation notices, termination notices or they will charge even if services are not provided. It is recommended to ask for a blank copy of the contract to review. It is appropriate to request 24 hours to look over the contract before signing.

Do providers have a minimum hour requirement?
Yes, but they all vary. Many times people are forced into signing for more hours than the actually need. This is a good questions to ask at the initial contact with the agency.

What happens if I don’t like the person doing the work?
Call the provider immediately and ask for a new person. You have the right as a consumer to be comfortable with the workers coming into your home.

Should I wait until I need someone or plan ahead?
I recommend planning for the day when you will need services. In most cases it’s not IF services will be needed, but WHEN they will be needed. Gathering information and talking with providers will keep you from making a bad decision when a crisis happens.