We hear more and more about inflation and the possibility of a recession these days. It makes sense then that some of us may feel the need to tighten our budgets and cut back on expenses. However, there’s one major category you should never cut, no matter how tight your budget gets, and that’s healthcare. We talked to some experts on which healthcare items we shouldn’t cut, and some ways we can save on health-related costs.
DON’T SKIP THE DENTIST
Just like everything else, dental care costs are rising. But that doesn’t mean you have the green light to avoid routine cleanings and checkups. In fact, you should keep up with your dental visits as a way to ward off potential problems and catch small issues before they become bigger —and more expensive.
Instead of cutting dental care from your budget, consider a dental savings plan. It’s not insurance — think of it as a network of dentists offering reduced prices through a group plan. Steve Seigel, co-founder at Flossy, recommends choosing a plan with a dentist near you. He adds, “Some national plans may advertise large coverage, but their network may not be as strong where you live and the dentists may not be as high quality as you would like. Also, ideally find a plan with no upfront costs since you won’t know exactly how much you will use it and you don’t want to (pay) out-of-pocket for a card you don’t end up using.”
DON’T CUT OUT PRESCRIPTIONS
If you’re taking prescription drugs, your doctor has a good reason for keeping you on those meds. Cutting out needed medications is another no-go for budget cuts.
When it comes to saving on prescriptions, Elizabeth Pennington, CFP with Fearless Finance, suggests you “compare prices via insurance through your pharmacy and through apps like GoodRx or through internet/mail pharmacies like AmazonPharmacy.”
Another way to potentially save is to join a prescription savings plan, which works a bit like dental savings plans. Signing up could save you some dollars on your next refill. Some plans are even free and offer a discount card you can download immediately. Just be sure to research whether your preferred pharmacy participates.
DON’T SKIP MEDICAL VISITS
Whether you’re due for your annual exam or you have a few healthcare concerns, don’t be tempted to avoid the doctor’s office to save a few dollars. As with dental care, annual exams offer a way to address potential health problems before they get out of control or scary. And if you have any issues, such as a concerning mole or recurring health complaint, seek medical advice sooner rather than later to avoid an even larger bill (and potentially scarier situation) down the road.
Pennington points out “the vast majority of health insurance plans (and all plans on the marketplace) are required to provide free preventive care, including certain screenings, immunizations, and an annual exam.” She advises looking into whether you qualify for subsidies through the Healthcare.gov marketplace. This can be a good option for saving on health insurance if you don’t have employer-sponsored insurance, and you may qualify for subsidies if your income meets their criteria.
Also consider various health insurance options to see what is most cost-effective for your medical needs. For instance, when it comes to choosing between a lower deductible or a high-deductible plan, she notes, “Sometimes, paying a higher premium to get coverage for things you know you’ll need is worth it. I see this often with clients who have out-of-network mental health expenses. Even paying a premium that’s double the cost could save them money if it comes with some out-of-network reimbursements.”
Here’s another option to save on doctor visits. Since the pandemic, telemedicine has become much more accessible and can be a great way to get medical advice for less money than an office visit.
DON’T NEGLECT YOUR EYES
Finally, don’t be tempted to save money by skipping regular eye doctor appointments. If you’re between 20 and 39 and don’t have any concerns, you can probably get a checkup once every five years. However, as you age and if you have any vision concerns (including a need for glasses or contacts), you’ll want to go more often—perhaps once per year.
Vision insurance and vision savings plans can be another way to trim a bit on those checkups. It’s worth doing the math on whether you can save money with an insurance or discount plan as you put your budget together.
OTHER WAYS TO SAVE ON HEALTHCARE
Pennington stresses it’s critical to budget for medical expenses and you shouldn’t skip preventive care. If, however, you find yourself with unreimbursed medical bills, she recommends you “talk to your provider/hospital about setting up a payment plan or taking advantage of any financial hardship support programs they might offer.”
You may even be able to save at tax time, too. Pennington explains: “If you have major medical expenses, make sure you keep records of costs (including lodging when needed and transportation to and from appointments). Medical costs higher than 7.5% of your AGI (adjusted gross income) can be itemized for your income tax deduction – if you have enough in medical costs, or those costs combined with other deductions gets you over the standard deduction amount for your household, you could see some tax savings that offset at least a little bit of those medical costs.”
TAKING CARE OF YOU — EVEN IN A RECESSION
Even when times are tough and money feels tight, it’s so important not to neglect taking care of yourself. That means getting the medical care you need and not letting yourself skip appointments as a way to save money. Look into various health insurance plans, savings plans, and newer options like telemedicine as alternative ways to cut back on your costs—whether or not the U.S. officially ends up in a recession.
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