6 Ways to Save on Health Costs With an HDHP

Elizabeth Davis
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Odds are better than ever that you will have a high deductible health insurance plan (HDHP) in 2015. A HDHP will be the only insurance offered through almost one-third of large employers next year—and over 80% of employers will offer at least one high deductible plan.

With an HDHP, you typically pay a lower monthly premium, but you’re also responsible for 100% of your medical costs until you satisfy a large deductible—as much as $6,450 for individuals and $12,900 for families in 2015, depending on your plan.

So, what can you do to keep your costs down until you hit your deductible? Here are 6 tips to help you save in an HDHP world:

  1. Take advantage of no-cost preventive care. Under the new ACA provisions, many preventive services are covered at no cost to you, even if your plan normally has a deductible or co-pay. This includes immunizations, preventive services for women and children, and screening and counseling for conditions like depression, diabetes, cholesterol, cancer, HIV, and other STIs. One thing to keep in mind: 26% of plans in 2014 were grandfathered under this rule because they met certain requirements and haven’t made any changes to their coverage. This means those plans do not have to cover preventive services at no cost. There should be fewer grandfathered plans in 2015, and all are expected to lose the status over time.
  1. Use a health savings account (HSA). If you have an HDHP, you can open an HSA. Your contributions are tax-free in most cases, which can help your money go further. If you don’t use the money in your HSA, it will roll over for next year. Some employers may also match contributions, or offer a different kind of of account where they reimburse your health costs. Watch out though—funds in some other types of accounts can’t be rolled over and must be spent before the end of the year.
  1. Avoid “out of network.” Even though you don’t have a set co-pay to see your doctor, your plan will have negotiated rates with a network of healthcare providers. You’ll still pay the full negotiated rate—but you’ll pay much more at a doctor or hospital that’s outside of your plan’s network. Even worse, out of network services may not count toward your deductible (or may have their own separate out of network deductible). It always pays to check first.
  1. OTC (non-prescription) meds are not qualified medical expenses. As of 2011, you can’t use an HSA to purchase over-the-counter medications unless you have a prescription from your doctor. Insulin is an exception. There are several over-the-counter medications like Prilosec and Flonase that have inexpensive prescription generics still available, but your doctor can also prescribe you almost any OTC med. It may be worth asking for a prescription to take advantage of your HSA and make the cost count toward your deductible.
  1. Check for manufacturer prescription coupons. These can reduce your cost anywhere from $5 to hundreds per month. You may not pay as little as someone with a flat co-pay, but they can still help you save, especially if you take an expensive brand-name drug.
  1. Most important of all: shop around! HDHPs are sometimes known as consumer-directed plans for a reason—you can do a lot to reduce your own costs. Try tools like Health Care Blue Book to find prices for medical services. And of course, GoodRx can help you compare prescription prices.

Still need more background on what high deductible plans are and how they work? Check out our previous post here—and watch for our next post, with more information on health savings accounts, and the difference between an HSA, HRA, and FSA.

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