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12 ways to reduce your medical costs

ways to reduce medical costs
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Charis Brown |
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You probably don’t need anyone telling you that medical costs are eating up a greater percentage of many people’s budgets. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, people spent nearly $10,000 ($9,982) on medical expenses last year. That's more than double what people spent in 2000! (In 2000, people spent $4,884 on average.)

But there are still some things you can do to reduce your medical expenses. Here are 12 ways to save!

1. Use telemedicine.

A relatively new approach to medical care is something called "telemedicine," where a doctor sees patients remotely. Not only is it cheaper, it's more convenient too!

Though some insurers are offering telemedicine in tandem with traditional medical care, companies that offer telemedicine are sprouting up that specifically offer access to a doctor by phone appointment or by the click of a mouse. Services to the general consumer such as Call a Doctor Plus or Doc on Call 24-7 cost around $20 a month, while MD Live offers a per-session visit for a cost of $49. In some cases however, it may be best to see a doctor in person. 

Read more: Virtual doctor visits could drastically reduce your health care costs

2. Get a second opinion.

According to Clark, it might be well worth it to see a different doctor if you're facing a procedure that's going to cost you a lot of money. 

"No matter how smart doctors are, and no matter how well-educated, there are different opinions about the best way to treat what ails you," he says. "When you're told you need something very invasive, very expensive, go get a second opinion." 

Read more: Do you really need that medical procedure?

3. Shop different health insurance providers during open enrollment.

Health insurance is complicated, for sure. To understand more about health insurance and how to pick the right insurance plan for you, check out our health insurance guide

Of course, if you're on a company plan, enrollment in your company's health insurance will typically save you the most money, but not always. It's best to shop around to know for sure. 

Also, check into insurance providers that lower premiums based on activities you can do, such as eating healthier or establishing a workout routine. Taking advantage of an insurer that offers these programs could save you big! 

Read more: Top health insurers for 2016

4. Understand what's covered by insurance and what's not. 

Many times the amount of a charge on a medical bill is totally dependent on how it is coded. 

"It's very tricky," says Dr. Pat Ketsche, Associate Professor of Health Administration at Georgia State University. She spoke with Clark and encouraged people to visit the website to find out what is and isn't included in a doctor's visit. 

"Sometimes, physicians for example might say, 'I think you need an EKG,' but an EKG may not necessarily be covered as part of a wellness visit," she said. 

Read more: Looking closely at your medical bills? Why you’d better start.

5. Estimate your medical expenses and compare.

One of the most difficult roadblocks related to medical expenses is not being able to figure out what you'll pay for a medical procedure beforehand and therefore, the inability to shop different medical providers for care to get a better price.

Not anymore. There is a new service Theo on our team wrote about recently. It's called Amino, and it allows you to research and compare the cost of a procedure or a doctor. In fact, it now has data on over 550,000 physicians, 49 procedures and 129 insurance companies. Check out the full details on Amino below. 

Read more: Amino lets you estimate health care costs for any procedure by insurer and doctor

6. Hire a medical billing advocate.

Hospital bills are almost never accurate. In some cases, it might make sense to hire a medical billing advocate that can help you lower your bills if you think you are being overcharged. 

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, about 43 million Americans have outstanding medical debt on their credit reports. 

But if you've exhausted all your options when it comes to fighting a medical bill you don't believe you owe, someone like this may be invaluable to you to recoup some of your money or reduce your bills. The Patient Advocate Foundation ( offers free assistance and can help you find a medical billing advocate. Though a medical billing advocate may charge a small fee, the money they'll save you will be well worth it. 

Read more: How to hire a medical billing specialist as an advocate

7. Deduct medical & dental expenses on your tax return.

If you qualify, you can deduct out-of-pocket medical expenses on your taxes! 

If you have medical and dental expenses that are more than 10% of your adjusted gross income, you can deduct these expenses from your tax return. For taxpayers 65 and older, medical expenses that are more than 7.5% of adjusted gross income can be deducted.

Check for more information on deducting medical expenses.

Read more: Bad medical debt hurting your credit? Here are 3 ways to attack it 

8. Don’t give out your social security number on medical forms.

Though many people report that the doctor they visit requires they fill out their social security number on medical forms, Clark says this can really put your information at risk. 

"I always leave it blank," he says. "Their thinking is if you don't pay, they want to be able to turn you over to a collection agency. But their security is like Swiss cheese with holes, and medical identity theft is a huge problem."

Read more: Don't give your Social Security number at these places!

9. Pay cash

It sounds crazy but it's true: Sometimes the cash price of a medical procedure will be less than using your insurance. Why? The doctor won't have to worry about the money becoming uncollectible later. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Patients who pay up front in cash often get better deals than their insurance plans have negotiated for them." The key here is you have to become your own best advocate and negotiate. See what the doctor or hospital can do for you if you ask for the cash price. 

Read more: Why you may want to pay cash for that medical procedure

10. Consider medical tourism.

Medical tourism is where someone travels to a different country for surgery or other medical care. It's become an alternative option for those needing surgery who want to pay much less — as much as 75% less. But, you'll definitely have to decide if medical tourism is right for you. and the Joint Commission International are two resources that can help you decide.

Read more: 8 things you need to think about before undergoing surgery

11. Use low-cost options to buy prescriptions. 

There has been an increase in the price of prescription drugs over the past several years. In order to save, you've got to know where to look! 

First, check out Clark's prescription plan guide. This will help you know the best places to purchase common drugs and where to get the best deals.

Most of the time, people can take a "biosimilar" of a particular medication and be just fine. This is a drug that's more affordable than the more well-known brands but the chemical composition is the same. A biosimilar can be as much as 1/20 the cost of its counterpart! 

Also, you can print out your pharmacy's discount prescription list and take it with you to the doctor. Then, ask your doctor to write you a prescription from the list. 

Another way to save on prescriptions is to check out alternative options such as reputable online websites or apps. But, you'll want to be very careful when shopping online. (This video shows you how to do it safely.) You might have to shop around a little depending on the prescriptions you need, since different prescriptions will probably be different prices at different pharmacies or retailers. Some people have had great success with GoodRx or Lowest Med. And keep in mind, you can always ask the pharmacist you use if there is any discount or if it is the lowest price they can offer you. 

Read more: Prescription drug prices have doubled: Here are 14 ways to save!

12. Need glasses? Check low-cost online retailers.

Clark is a big fan of Zenni Optical, where you can find glasses starting at $6 to $10 per pair, plus shipping. But some other companies where you can get prescription eyeglasses at a great price include, Goggles4U and GlassesUSA. (In fact, Goggles4U has a deal going on right now for prescription glasses for just $3!)

If you buy glasses online, keep in mind you'll need to have your eye prescription and your P.D., or pupillary distance. Some doctors will have this written on your prescription, but in case you don't have it, this is Goggles4u's guide to calculating your pupillary distance. And, if your eye doctor give you a hard time about giving you a copy of your prescription, check out the laws regarding your eye prescription.

Read more: Everything you need to know about getting cheap prescription glasses online!

How to legally make your doctor provide your eye prescription