For some people, good health insurance coverage can offset some, if not all, of their health care costs.
But if you find that you can’t afford to pay your deductible – or if you don’t have any insurance coverage at all – you’ll need a plan to manage your health care costs without driving yourself into debt.
According to Census Bureau data, about 50 million Americans lack health insurance.
And even those who are fortunate enough to have coverage may still find it impossible to pay for certain health care costs that aren’t covered.
That’s one reason all eyes are now on ObamaCare – the health care reform initiative signed by President Barack Obama in 2010. The official name for ObamaCare is the Patient Protection and the Affordable Care Act. It is designed to overhaul the health care system and make health care coverage more affordable and accessible for all Americans.
One way ObamaCare is supposed to slash costs is by increasing competition. Beginning October 2013, insurance companies will compete to act as your healthcare provider via a health insurance exchange pool. The goal of this system is to lower insurance premiums.
Critics contend, however, that ObamaCare will ultimately drive health care costs up.
Only time will tell.
The good news is that if you think you might end up having to pay cash for medical and health care expenses, there are a number of things you can do to stay ahead financially.
Use these 5 tips to prepare yourself for unforeseen medical expenses or expensive health care costs:
Find out if your local hospital or clinic offers a financial aid program.
Some hospitals and medical centers do offer discount treatment programs for patients who are strapped for cash and need financial assistance. You may need to provide proof of income and submit a formal application for review. But the effort can be worth it if you end up having to pay for medical treatment – at a greatly reduced cost – out of your own pocket.
Redesign your budget.
If you need help organizing your budget so that you can save for unplanned medical expenses or healthcare costs, get help from a nonprofit credit counselor or speak with a financial advisor about your options.
If you’re already behind on medical bills and need help with putting together a better repayment plan, get in touch with the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies or the National Federation of Credit Counseling for assistance. These agencies can connect you with a counselor who can help you set up a payment plan that fits within your budget.
Turn to municipalities/cities, churches or local organizations for help.
Some cities offer discounted medical programs or even free treatment for the uninsured, or for those who earn a certain modest income. You may be able to get a discount on doctor’s visits and exams, and qualify for more affordable treatment programs.
Check also with your local church or place of worship to find out what types of health-related discount programs they may know. Because religious institutions often help people in dire economic straits, they may be good referral sources for finding affordable medical coverage and low-cost health care services.
Look at medical discount program options.
If the cost of health insurance is too high, you may be able to apply for a medical or health care discount program such as the Alliance Health Card or QHealth where you pay a modest monthly fee to get big discounts on medical treatment.
This isn’t like health insurance where you will have some or all of the treatment paid for after your deductible. These programs work by providing you with a steeply discounted rate on fees and services from certain providers in your area.
Be prepared to negotiate.
Many hospitals and doctors are willing to negotiate fees for X-rays, doctor visits and even some types of surgery when they know that you’re the one paying in cash – as opposed to insurance footing the bill.
Physicians and medical practitioners are sometimes happier to get payments directly from patients because then there’s less insurance hassles, paperwork, and sometimes less time waiting to actually get paid.
But even if you can’t pay in a lump sum, or you are unable to pay immediately when medical services are rendered, if you can come up with an acceptable plan to pay your bill within a reasonable period of time, most hospitals or doctors will reduce your rate and work with you provide the medical care you need.