Easy Steps

Any way you look at, health care is expensive. Help save your money from an out-of-pocket experience with some relatively simple steps.


Prioritize taking care of your health


Staying healthy provides huge returns for your money and your life

It’s true that you’ll have to pay your premiums anyway, but getting-and staying healthy can help you cut your other health expenses way down.  Let’s face it, getting any health care service is expensive these days.  By staying healthy, you can save simply by needing less service.

Fortunately even small changes can make a surprisingly big difference.  Things like walking more and eating smaller portions at meals over time can be significant.

How about swapping out some TV for an after dinner walk at home.  Or walk with co-workers when you need to meet, instead of sitting.

Or, can you walk or bike somewhere for dinner?

It all adds up.

If you use vitamins and other supplements or healthy foods (like flaxseed or probiotics, for example), you’re right, they can be VERY expensive.  If you buy them from Whole Foods, it will as promised take your Whole Paycheck.

Did you know you can get many items for far less online?  Savings can often be anywhere from 20% to 60% less.  Also, be sure to choose the non-branded version of a supplement if its the same thing.  For example, buy a generic brand of vitamin D instead of a branded vitamin D.  Look for coupons and offers to save even more, before ordering.

Sites to try:  www.vitacost.com and www.swansonvitamins.com.

Walmart and Costco often have good deals on supplements as well.

Health savings accounts sound similar to flexible spending accounts, but are totally different. An HSA provides a unique savings tool that can be extremely valuable, especially for those who are healthy and only get medical care occasionally.

Health savings accounts are tax-favored accounts that allow you to put aside a chunk of money for your out-of-pocket expenses, then have a high deductible plan to take over for those years when you need more care. The great thing about the HSA is that you get an immediate tax benefit, AND then your HSA account grows tax-free. As long as you use it for medical expenses in the future, it becomes a tax free source of money for most medical, dental and vision expenses for you and your family in the future.

To qualify for an HSA, you must be under age 65 and you must purchase a health policy with a high annual deductible. Policies that qualify will have “HSA” in their name. This policy must be your only health insurance.

Once the policy is in place, you can set up an HSA account and contribute up to about $3,400 for 2017 (or $6,750 for a family), an amount that is adjusted periodically by the IRS.

If you are age 55 or older by the end of the year, you may contribute an extra $1,000 each year as a “catch-up” contribution.

Money you put into the account can be deducted on your tax return, whether you itemize deductions or not.  So you will see a tax savings each year up front.

Then, earnings in the account grow untaxed, just as in a 401(k) or IRA. But unlike retirement plans, you can dip into an HSA at any age—tax-free—to pay for medical bills and ex­penses.

Along with paying for your out-of-pocket expenses for medical care, HSAs also allow many charges that are not typically covered by health insurance, including:

  • over-the-counter drugs
  • eyeglasses and contact lenses
  • acupuncture
  • chiropractors
  • dental care
  • therapy and counseling (which we all need after our premiums increase each year),
  • long-term-care insurance premi­ums
  • future Medigap premiums

Unlike flexible spending accounts, HSAs allow unspent money to be rolled over from year to year. As long as you use it only for medical care, you will never pay tax on it, which is key.

But let’s say you are healthy and don’t spend much of it.  Then you have a tax-free source to pay for medical expenses for you, or a family member, at any time in the future.

You will only owe income tax on earnings if funds are used for non-health­care purposes.  After age 65, any money in the HSA may be withdrawn penalty-free for any purpose, but earnings not used to pay medical bills will be taxed as regular income (similar to a traditional IRA).

Since money you don’t use is money you keep, which grows tax-free, combining an HSA with some good comparison shopping is a fantastic tool for building savings for the future.

Yes, you can technically get a triple-tax benefit on your HSA:

Your annual contributions are made with pre-tax dollars, reducing your income tax

Your HSA account grows tax free

Your HSA remains tax free if you use it to pay for medical, dental, vision and related expenses, now and in the future.

Remember you can also use HSA money to pay for your family’s medical expenses as well.

That explains the popularity of HSAs and the fact that many industry experts call them your “second retirement plan“.


Consider switching to a Health Savings Account-based plan


HSAs offer great tax and retirement benefits


Shop around for everything related to health care


The amount you save stays in your pocket (or HSA)

While insurance companies have negotiated payment amounts, there’s still often a huge difference in prices for various surgeries, lab tests or procedures.

Since we are responsible for deductibles and co-pays, we can control our costs by shopping around.

Sound weird?  Well…let’s say you were buying a refrigerator.  Suppose a store is selling one for $1,500. But another store down the street sold the same one for $500. You would likely shop at the store with the lower price, wouldn’t you?

It’s really not much different when you need an MRI, lab test or surgery.  Most people do not shop around for medical procedures. You go where somebody sends you – and hope your insurance covers it.  Then we get these huge medical bills.

Shopping around can help you save money–especially if you have a large deductible.

We know it sounds weird, but have you gone in to see a doctor or get a test lately? Lately it seems that almost all bills come back far higher than one would expect.  Usually MUCH higher.

Fortunately doctors and medical service providers are now used to people asking about price.

So if you’re told you need an MRI, ask HOW MUCH.  And then shop around.

Some websites are making it easier:


Health Care Blue Book

Good question.  Many times a doctor will automatically start ordering tests.  For minor things it may  not be necessary.  You should always question the doctor and let them know that you’d like to manage your costs and is the benefit of the test worth the extra cost.

In most cases, yes!  A new trend in health care is telemedicine.  Many insurers now provide online consultations with doctors for minor issues, like the flu or strep throat. Along with not having to drag yourself to the doctor when you don’t feel great, usually it only costs around $45-50 to see an MD.  The consultation will be arranged by phone or by skype.   The doctor can call in a prescription for you as well.

Telemedicine is also a great option for counseling and therapy.

Check with your insurer or try MD Live.

Even if the bill is correct, you can still negotiate for a discount. Be persistent – sometimes it may take more than one call, but given the outrageous pricing out there for medical care in America, it’s usually worth your time.

Here’s an article detailing how to do it.

The average cost of an Emergency Room visit is $1,200 and comes with an average wait time of four hours or longer, per the Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC.  And it’s also possible to walk out with bills far higher.

And, research shows most of ER visits were not true emergencies.

You should only use this very expensive option for true life-threatening emergencies.

Instead, consider urgent care clinics.

The average cost of an urgent care visit is $155, which is a substantial savings over an ER visit.  And with an average wait time of just 15 to 45 minutes, it will save you alot of time as well as money.

Urgent care is appropriate for urgent, but non-life threatening things like a broken arm, sports injury, ear infection, bronchitis, etc.  Urgent care clinics are usually open weekends and long hours as well.

Many people see the cost savings and convenience of urgent care and decide it’s the best solution for ALL their medical care.  Unfortunately that is probably not a good decision.

Urgent Care is for time sensitive issues.  But if your regular doctor could see you, it would be best, because he/she knows your health history and has your medical records.  With urgent care, you just get treatment by a professional who does their best with little information about your past history.

So…unless your situation is truly urgent, it is best to usually stick with your primary doc.


Only use emergency or urgent care when necessary


Convenience has a high price


Choose generic prescription drugs


Any savings stays in your pocket

Per the Food and Drug Administration, there is only one big difference between brand name drugs and generic drugs:

On average, the cost of a generic drug is 80 to 85 percent lower than the brand name product.

Per the FDA, consumers switching to generic drugs saves an average of $3 billion per week.

Generic drugs are extensively tested and must work as well as regular drugs to be brought to market.  Don’t let expensive ads tell you otherwise.

Save your money and always ask for a generic version of a prescribed drug.

Surprisingly, yes, drug prices can vary greatly.  One pharmacy may mark up a prescription far more than others.   In some cases you can save sometimes 50% or even more by going to a different nearby pharmacy or store.  And, some stores like Walmart have special programs where they provide certain common drugs (in generic versions) for a really low price–like $4.

Try goodrx.com to quickly and easily find the cheapest source for a prescription nearby.  Just be sure to bring your smart phone or a printout of the coupon with you so the pharmacy can apply it.

You’ll be surprised how much you can save!

Some medical groups have affiliated pharmacy that they would of course love you to use.

But when they ask you what pharmacy you use, tell them the “One that has that drug the cheapest”.   They’ll hand you a prescription.

Or if you’re fast you can look up the information on the GoodRX app and tell them on the spot where to send the prescription.

Either way, it usually pays to shop around.

Yes, medical bills are no fun to read, but it will be worth your while.

Check this out: According to the Medical Billing Advocates of America, an estimated 80 percent of medical bills contain errors. That’s huge.  Even just a normal visit to your doctor or your lab may have billing errors.

And the bills are usually expensive.  Reviewing and calling about anything questionable may save you hundreds of dollars.

So take the time to review the bills carefully before paying.  If you have any questions at all, call your doctor’s office or the hospital billing department to see if the charges are correct.

Don’t be shy…your doctor’s billing office is used to answering questions about the high bills we all receive.  It’s normal for them to adjust or write down things that may have been billed incorrectly for overcharged.

Medical bills are cranked out by “medical billing” personnel who may or may not be catching up on the Kardashians online while they work.  Combine that with a confusing medical billing system where a typo could result in a much higher charge, and you have the recipe for this estimated 80% error rate.

You want to look for duplicate charges, services or procedures you didn’t receive, or incorrectly coded charges that may bill you for something far more elaborate than what you had done.

Or if it just looks ridiculously expensive (like a high charge for a short visit to your doctor), it’s usually worth a call too.

This article provides great tips on what to look for.

Yes!  With this high error rate, there are companies who will audit your bills and then charge you a fee only if they save you money.  If you’re pressed for time, have large bills or haven’t gotten anywhere on your own, these are good options.

One option, Medical Cost Advocate, lets you do everything online, by entering your medical bill, treatment codes, and other information directly into the company’s interface (you can also submit a bill by fax). The fee is 35% of whatever savings they earn you, and they only take on bills that are at least $200. According to the service, typical savings are 20% to 50%.

Another option is Bill Advocates.


Review your bills carefully


An estimated 80% of bills contain errors

“It’s not what you earn…it’s what you keep.”


Insurance is a complicated subject, made even more confusing with the marketing claims of insurance companies. Use these quick tips to help navigate this subject.

Spending a few minutes each year gathering quotes can pay off with big savings. You can often save hundreds of dollars on auto, homeowners or renters insurance just by getting competing quotes.

Just be sure to shop around for the same level of coverage so you can compare apples to apples. There are websites that will give you several quotes at once that just take a few minutes of your time. This is an extremely fast way to find savings. Check the same coverage with at least 3 different carriers.

Raising your deductible lowers your annual premium, providing quick savings. There’s one catch, though: you need to put aside the savings in an emergency fund so you can afford to pay a deductible if and when you need it. But it’s a fast way to save 20% to 40% on your annual insurance expense.

Keep in mind that the real reason for your insurance is to protect against the large losses. You don’t need a low deductible policy to pay for small problems—if you use your insurance this way, your premiums will go up! Better to put that money into your emergency savings. Then, if you’re accident-free, that money stays in your pocket, not in the insurance company’s.

Normally, insurance companies will tack on a large interest rate to allow you to make monthly or quarterly payments. If possible, pay up front. You may get a discount, but even if you don’t, you’ll avoid paying finance charges.

Many insurers will reduce your rates if you combine your homeowners and auto insurance with them.

Also, if you don’t drive a lot, see if there’s a discount for low mileage usage.

Health Savings Accounts, or HSAs, are a unique and flexible way to save on taxes and save money for medical expenses in retirement.

This can double as a retirement savings, so it’s a good move for many people, if you’re eligible for it.

Insurance is designed to be a tool to protect you from very large losses. Some people will say that you should never consider insurance as an investment. Insurance salespeople, on the other hand, may say it’s better to have more than less. Reality probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Insurance usually carries higher fees so it is not an ideal investment on its own. However, it often serves very specific risk control benefits that other investments cannot provide.

What should you do? Get educated, work with a financial advisor to help you determine your needs, and always pay attention to fees.

Remember, we’re worried about insuring against life-changing losses, not the small stuff.

Insuring your electronics is a huge moneymaker for the Best Buys of the world.

But according to Consumer Reports and CNET, few people ever use this insurance, and the cost of the insurance would usually cover the repair in those rare instances we need it.

So insure your house and your car, but forget insuring your laptop, phone or TV.  Instead, save that money.

In today’s medically advanced world, we are far more likely to be disabled than to die.

Disability is the biggest risk for most of us, and most people ignore it or just accept a small policy.   This is a big risk.  Especially if you have dependents, disability insurance for the bread-winner(s) is a must-have.

Insurance is a multi-trillion dollar industry.  The insurers have spent billions of dollars learning how to sell us their products effectively.

So its vital that you practice some self-defense.

Insurance salespeople are paid to push a lot of products that may or may not make sense for you.  The salespeople are usually paid on commission so the more they sell to you, the  more they make.

You want to insure for important things, but not throw money away. There are many insurance products that sound good due to marketing, but are purely expensive versions of another product.

Be sure to use outside sources of information on what you need and always research before buying.  For best results, get financial planning help first to determine what you need before purchasing a policy.

Most companies will just increase the amount from the previous year. Even if it’s the same, there might be a new competitor who may beat the price.

The price difference can be huge. It’s always worth your while to check around.

All information provided on myfwcenter.com is general in nature and not tailored to you. It should not be considered individualized advice.

Financial education and website provided by Wavelength Financial Content Inc.