Three healthcare resolutions for consumers in 2018
Looking ahead to 2018
Healthcare policies made plenty of headlines in 2017, but unfortunately, there won’t be much relief for consumers when it comes to high costs and out-of-pocket spending.
Republicans were largely focused on repealing the Affordable Care Act this year, in efforts that were ultimately unsuccessful. The party did successfully repeal the individual mandate through the Republican tax bill, but a year later, the law is still largely intact, and very little time has been spent trying to improve it.
Both the law’s supporters and opponents agree that Obamacare has challenges—particularly around affordability. But a bipartisan solution to those challenges was not in the cards this year, and 2018 doesn’t seem promising, either.
Repealing the individual mandate will reduce the tax burden for consumers who don’t want to carry insurance, but it won’t affect many of the other challenges healthcare consumers face. These include rising medical bills, narrow networks, and increased out-of-pocket costs.
The takeaway? Expect expenses to remain steady or rise next year. In light of this, here are three resolutions for consumers about how to minimize your costs and become a better healthcare consumer. It won’t help you avoid all of your bills, but it might help reduce your costs.
Maximize your HSA
If you are eligible to open a Health Savings Account but haven’t yet, make that your first healthcare New Year’s Resolution. If you have one but aren’t maximizing the value of the account, increase your contributions next year.
What are HSAs? These savings accounts allow consumers to contribute funds tax-free to be used for qualified medical expenses. You never pay any taxes on funds used for medical expenses, and unused funds roll over every year. After age 65, you can continue to use the funds for medical expenses, or you can withdraw the funds for any use and pay only income taxes.
Why should you plan to maximize your HSA in 2018?
As healthcare expenses continue to shift toward consumers, saving money through these tax-advantaged accounts is a great way to prepare for future healthcare expenses.
Even if you don’t anticipate having healthcare needs next year, getting into the habit of saving as much as you can will pay off when you inevitably do experience an illness or injury.
If you find yourself with a sinus infection or bronchitis next year, considering receiving healthcare through telemedicine. What is ‘telemedicine’? It refers to the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients via technology. In other words, it’s a doctor’s visit, by phone or webcam.
If your insurance covers telemedicine—and many do—you can be treated over the phone or through web video at a lower cost than a traditional office visit.
Further, most consumers appreciate the convenience of telemedicine, which allows you to receive a diagnosis and prescription from your own home.
Learning how to seek out lower-cost treatment will benefit you in the short-term—a smaller copay for your sinus infection visit, for example, but it will also benefit you in the long-term. As you become more comfortable price-shopping and determining which hospitals, doctors and types of care provide the most value, you will likely save on medical costs throughout your life.
Double-check your network
If you switched insurance plans during open enrollment, you should absolutely do this, but even if you still have the same plan, you should double check your network in January. Insurance networks change regularly, and accidentally visiting an out-of-network doctor or hospital can result in expensive surprise medical bills.
In January, visit your insurance carrier’s website to research your network and the available doctors and hospitals in your community.
This is important for people who expect to experience healthcare needs in 2018, but it is also important for those who don’t. Even if you are relatively healthy, take the time to determine the closest hospital or urgent care facility in your network.
In the event that you have an accident or illness that is severe but not life-threatening, you will want to make sure you are visiting an in-network facility. If you have a broken arm or a high fever, getting online to do a provider search might not be your first priority, so take some time to do it early in the year.
Though the high cost of healthcare is challenging for many consumers, there are many small steps you can take to minimize your exposure to expensive bills. In 2018, resolve to take a few of these steps and work toward becoming a savvier healthcare consumer.
This column was originally published on the Huffington Post. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like "Three healthcare resolutions for Democrats in 2018."
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