We’ve been conditioned to believe that proper health care is a luxury, not a necessity. We’ve been taught to hold off on seeing doctors, that we can forego preventive care, and to wait until we have something seriously wrong with us to seek treatment. Until last year, even something as basic and necessary as health insurance was seen as an “only if I can afford it and have nothing else to buy” purchase.
The problem with this mindset–as we’re learning now that the Affordable Healthcare Act has made it easier and more affordable to see doctors and get the meds we need when we need them–is that waiting until disaster is looming is way more expensive than simply getting our regular checkups and exams on schedule. These regular appointments are what help us catch conditions early and treat them before they become life threatening and have the ability to bankrupt us.
It’s No Exaggeration
That isn’t an exaggeration. Having to declare bankruptcy because of medical bills is a real problem in the United States (1). This isn’t just for people who have to undergo surgery and then spend weeks recovering in the hospital. A single procedure–even a minor one–can wind up costing thousands of dollars, effectively decimating a person’s financial situation. And, while many hospitals and medical clinics are willing and prepared to help patients set up payment programs (that are rarely based on credit approval), paying off thousands and thousands of dollars can put a person’s financial health in jeopardy for years.
You would think, then, with the ACA helping to bring down the costs of insurance and more and more clinics increasing the number of insurance policies they accept, setting up scholarship programs and other reduced and income-sensitive payment plans (2) that more people would be going to the doctor and buying the best possible coverage they can afford.
Instead, what seems to be happening is that people are trying to apply the same bargain-basement approach to health insurance that they do to automobile insurance (3).
This is certainly one approach to take. After all, when you feel healthy, it’s hard to imagine that you will ever need extensive medical treatment. And, like with automobile insurance, in a lot of ways you’re paying for something you hope you’ll never have to use. Remember, though, what we said before: preventative care and regular checkups do more to reduce the costs of extensive medical treatment than anything else because catching conditions early helps reduce the need for the treatments in the first place.
So when you shop for health insurance, it is important to look at it differently than other types of purchases you might make.
For example, when shopping for health insurance, pay particular attention to how much money you’ll have to pay out of pocket for co-pays on appointments and prescriptions. If you have to see the doctor regularly, it might be worth it to pay more per month to reduce the out of pocket expense you pay for those visits and whatever meds you might need.
Another important detail is your deductible. The deductible on your insurance policy is the amount that the company will expect you to be able to pay out of pocket before they step in and cover the rest of the costs. Typically, the higher your deductible, the lower your monthly premium payment will be. If you can afford to shell out, say $5000 for treatments, the lower monthly payment is a good idea. If you can’t, increasing your monthly payment to increase the amount your insurance will cover is the safer bet.
Coverage is also important: what kind of coverage do you think you need? If you’ll need to see specialists, that’s something to consider. If you don’t want to be limited in terms of which doctors you can see and when and how, you’ll probably have to pay more every month.
Then, of course, it’s a matter of fitting that monthly premium into your budget (4). This might take some finagling of your numbers, but trust us when we tell you: it’s better to pay for good health insurance now than it is to get stuck with a bargain-basement plan later. The last thing you need to worry about when you get sick is how you’re going to pay for everything, right?
- Mangan, Dan. Medical Bills Are the Biggest Cause of US Bankruptcies: Study, CNBC.com
- The Recovery Village: Insurance, http://www.therecoveryvillage.com/insurance/
- Finances and Healthcare, Moneyhints.com
- How to Find the Best Health Insurance Plan for You, Steve Sternberg. UsNews.com