6 Mistakes You're Making When Spending On Your Health

Your health is one of your most important investments, but you don’t have to drop lots of dollars to reap wellness rewards.

Even if you consider yourself to be thrifty regarding most types of shopping, spending on your health isn't always so straightforward. Should you opt for the low-premium or the low-deductible health plan? Should you schedule a checkup now or wait until you've got a health question for your doctor? It's a lot to figure out.

"In many countries, such as the United States where there is no single-payer or universal care system, individuals have to understand that health-related decisions and strategies are closely tied to financial outlook," says Jagdish Khubchandani, PhD, a professor of public health at New Mexico State University. "And knowledge of both is a must and should complement each other."

Wellness and money experts tell us the biggest financial mistakes they see people make when it comes to spending—and saving—on their health.

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Skipping out on health plan wellness programs

"There is a growing number of insurance companies that provide premium discounts and other perks for enrolling and participating in their wellness programs," says Karen Condor, a health insurance expert with Clearsurance. Wellness program participation might provide discounts on gym memberships, fitness gear, or equipment. Or you could even receive money to use toward out-of-pocket expenses, Condor explains.

Not comparing all factors of a health plan

"It is advisable to compare prices, features, coverage, deductibles, prescription benefits, and provider networks to enable you to identify the most affordable health care plan available," says Daniel Boyer, MD, of Farr Institute.

When shopping for a health insurance plan, either through the Marketplace or choosing a tier on your employer-sponsored benefits, you might become hyper focused on choosing a plan with the lowest premium. But often lower premiums equal higher deductibles and vice versa. A lower premium will mean you'll have a lower monthly fee for your health insurance. But the higher deductible will mean you'll be paying more out of pocket for services each year.

A high deductible health plan can be a financial drain on people with preexisting conditions who need to see their doctors more often. But if you're relatively healthy, the lower premium option might be the better choice.

Spending money on supplements or fads

"Many people are jumping on board to buy expensive products that they may not need," says Meg Mill, PharmD, a functional medicine health consultant. "For example, I have seen patients claiming to do a monthly parasite cleanse without knowing if they even have a parasite. Not only is this expensive, it can also put undue stress on your body."

Focus on diet as a source of nutrients, rather than supplements, adds Jinan Banna, PhD, a registered dietitian and professor of nutrition. "Supplements should be used when the diet is not adequate to meet needs and shouldn't be the primary source of nutrition," she explains. When in doubt, consult your healthcare provider about whether you have nutrient deficiencies or special dietary needs and how to address them.

Only going to the doctor when you are sick

"Not seeking preventive care or screenings and rushing to the ER when a problem occurs is expensive for health systems, individuals, and families," Khubchandani says. Get established with a primary care physician (PCP) if possible and obtain all routine screenings, such as annual physicals.

You should go to the emergency room if you are experiencing an emergency, of course. But a PCP should act as your general health home. Your provider should maintain a detailed record of your medical history and help you navigate health issues if they crop up. That may mean directing you to a trusted specialist if necessary.

PCP (and other provider) copays are generally cheaper than emergency room copays. And often health plans waive copays for a certain number of PCP visits per year. Plus, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), all non-grandfathered health plans in the US have to cover preventive care benefits at no cost to you, as long as you're seen by an in-network provider. That means you won't pay a deductible, coinsurance, or a copay for many routine screenings with your PCP. And preventive care could save you money down the road.

Not accessing free or low-cost services

Even if you don't have access to a health plan, you can still get preventive care. "For many, the lack of situational awareness or general knowledge about free or inexpensive community-based resources can end up costing out of pocket," Khubchandani says.

Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) receive funds from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to deliver primary care to patients on a sliding-fee scale. And other free clinics offer services either pro bono or at a low cost.

Not utilizing hospital financial assistance programs

Nonprofit hospitals must offer financial assistance programs. These programs provide a discount or even free care based on a sliding scale. "Don't assume you earn too much to qualify," says Michael Waterbury, CEO of Goodroot. "Depending on the poverty rate in your state and your family size, you can make six figures and still be entitled to a discount of 25% or more. Many people suffering with medical debt were eligible for financial assistance but didn't know to ask." Check with the hospital's financial department before paying your bill, he recommends.

With a little extra legwork on healthcare spending and saving, you can keep your finances—and yourself—in relatively good health.

Updated by
Jennifer Chesak

Jennifer Chesak is a medical journalist for several national publications, a writing instructor, and a freelance book editor. She earned her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern's Medill. She's also the managing editor for the literary magazine, Shift.

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