9 Tips for Keeping Your Medical Bills Low

There are simple things to do to keep healthcare costs down.

Healthcare costs in the United States are high enough to make you sick, averaging $10,345 per person annually and rising nearly 6 percent per year. While the government struggles to come up with a plan to make healthcare more affordable, you may be dealing with bills way above your comfort level as the cost of health insurance rises as well.

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait around for new laws to save on medical bills. Try putting these tips into practice to reduce healthcare costs while staying healthy at the same time. Remember to consult with your doctor before making any medical decisions. You can save over $1,000 simply by not getting sick.

1. Skip Your Annual Physical

The annual physical — a yearly trip to the doctor just to see how you’re doing  is considered sacrosanct by many Americans, but many in the medical community question whether it’s helpful for an otherwise healthy person to traipse into the clinic every year. Decades ago, the Canadian Task Force on the Periodic Health Examination recommended that annual checkups be abandoned. These days, a rising number of U.S. doctors agree that the ritual is not worth the cumulative $10 billion annual expense involved. Save your share of this money by waiting until you have a medical issue before heading to the doctor.

Cut Your Bills Even More: 19 Medical Expenses You Can Deduct From Your Taxes

2. Get that Flu Shot

The saying goes that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Put into practice, this helps you save on medical bills. One excellent example is the flu shot, a free or very inexpensive way to opt out of sneezes, coughs, doctor visits, medical bills and lost work time. The flu isn’t a minor annoyance — it’s the most costly preventable illness in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 5 percent and 20 percent of Americans get the flu every year, incurring collective medical costs of over $10 billion, plus $16 billion in lost wages. If you get the flu, you’ll pay an average of $130 or more if you are insured and at least $200 if you aren’t, but much more if you are hospitalized.

3. Walk Every Day

If someone offered you a free pill that would help you lose weight and prevent or reduce high blood pressure, you’d jump to take it.  One brisk walk a day is that magic pill, and there are loads of reasons walking will save you money. It costs you nothing but time, yet the health benefits are enormous, including lowering blood pressure. One out of three adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure, or about 75 million people, according to the CDC. The annual medical costs associated with this disease total some $46 billion.

4. Switch to Generic Drugs

If prescription drug costs ruin your budget month after month, it may seem impossible to save on medical bills without eliminating critical medications. But you can save a lot of money on drug costs just by switching to generic medicines, which are copies of brand-name drugs that have passed government testing. According to the FDA, market competition usually leads to savings of about 85 percent off brand-name drugs when multiple generic companies market a single approved product. Generic drugs go through the same rigorous testing as other drugs before approval and are equally effective.

Learn More: Why Prescription Drug Prices Are Rising — And How You Can Save

5.  Visit a Dental School

Given the cost of health insurance, you might not carry dental coverage. If so, you’ll pay a total of around $370 for an annual exam, cleaning and X-rays, and hundreds more if you have cavities or need a tooth pulled. You can save on medical bills of this nature by heading to a dental school in your area. Dental school clinics often offer reduced-cost dental treatment to allow students to get experience. Don’t panic: Dental students are well-supervised by experienced dentists. At dental schools, you can get your teeth fixed for anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of the cost of a private dentist. Dental work can also be paid with a flexible spending account — it’s another great way to save money on medical costs.

6. Negotiate the Big Stuff

You don’t accept the sticker price when you buy a new car, but you may not think about haggling over medical expenses. Yet there is no better way to save on medical bills than by negotiating them. Some claim that you can save up to 80 percent of medical costs by haggling. Just explain your situation and ask the healthcare provider to work with you. If you are looking at a big bill and have some cash in hand, offer to pay a lower amount in cash immediately if the provider will write off the rest.

Get the Details: How to Negotiate Hospital Bills

7. Do It Outpatient

Some medical procedures can be done either in a hospital or an outpatient clinic. Outpatient is cheaper — a lot cheaper. Let’s say you have arthritis and need an unicompartmental knee arthroplasty. You can have this procedure done by spending one to four days in the hospital, or you can go to an outpatient surgery center. A recent study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine determined that a patient paid $20,500 less on average on an outpatient UKA than on an inpatient procedure, even though the success rates were exactly the same.

8. Become a Vegetarian

No, this isn’t a joke. Experts agree that those who forgo meat are healthier, which means they save on medical bills. This isn’t a matter of pocket change, either. A recent study by University of Oxford scholars, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, projects that if Americans shifted to a plant-based diet, the annual medical costs for the country in 2050 would drop by $187.2 billion. And it’s not an all-or-nothing equation, either. If everyone simply reduced meat consumption as part of a balanced diet, medical costs would still drop by $150 billion. In addition to paying less in medical costs, you’ll spend an average $750 less a year in food costs.

9. Shop Online

The internet offers lower prices on books, clothes and technology, but that’s not all. You can save on medical bills by taking advantage of online sites selling products you need. There are ways to maximize the money you save online, too. Big online pharmacies can cut the costs of your medications by as much as 90 percent. Just make sure the pharmacy is accredited by checking on the website of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Since the average adult takes 4.6 prescriptions regularly, cheaper costs can add up fast. You can also save money buying eyeglasses online. Just research the site before placing an order.

Up Next: Retirement Survival Strategies for Rising Healthcare Costs