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9 Tips to Protect Yourself From Rising Healthcare Costs

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According to a 2019 report from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, healthcare costs are projected to rise by 5.5% annually, on average, through 2027. As a share of total gross domestic product (GDP), healthcare spending is expected to increase by a full 1.5 percentage points, from 17.9% of GDP in 2017 to 19.4% of GDP in 2027.

The projections foretell an uptick in the already brisk rate of healthcare spending growth. Between 2012 and 2017, healthcare spending grew by about 4.4% per year, more than double the rate of inflation.

Every American consumer can reasonably expect to pay more for healthcare in 10 years than today. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to mitigate higher healthcare spending while tending to your own health and well-being. Most of the steps outlined here involve simple lifestyle or habit changes that are well within your capabilities to achieve.

Tips to Protect Yourself From Rising Healthcare Costs

Use these nine strategies to protect yourself and your family from rising healthcare costs.

1. Learn to Effectively Manage Your Healthcare Finances

Begin by getting on top of your healthcare bills and obligations. In this article, leaders from the Family Advisory Council of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recommend some easy organizational tips that could prevent costly oversights or errors:

  • Set Up a Filing System. Implement a physical filing system (with digital backups, if desired) to organize health-related correspondence and payments.
  • Keep Copies and Dated Records. Make copies of all physical bills, and date any records that don’t already have official date information
  • Log Phone Calls. Log all healthcare-related communications that don’t produce a paper trail, such as phone calls. Memorialize the topic and content of the conversation, and be sure to note the identity and contact information for the other party
  • Keep Receipts. Keep receipts of all healthcare-related expenses, including indirect expenses such as transportation, meals, and lodging. Some such expenses may be tax-deductible; consult your tax professional for advice
  • Know What Your Health Plan Covers. Read the fine print on your health insurance plan carefully. This is the surest way to avoid unpleasant (and costly) surprises
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help. Apply for any hardship or financial assistance programs to which you’re entitled, and promptly let your provider know if you’re having difficulty paying your bills.

2. Lose Weight By Eating Right

Since the mid 1950s, American diets have changed dramatically. Some experts believe that the average diet is more than 50% “junk food”: food that has little nutritional value and is high in fat, sugar, and calories. These foods are highly visible, heavily advertised, psychologically addicting, and receive the bulk of the nation’s food dollars.

Combined with the sedentary lifestyle of most Americans, obesity, including childhood obesity, has exploded with all of its attendant medical costs. Health economist John Cawley calculates that health services related to obesity amount to $190 billion a year in additional medical spending, or 20.6% of U.S. healthcare expenditures. In fact, the costs of obesity now exceed the costs of smoking. Switching to a healthy diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the best forms of “health insurance.”

3. Make Exercise a Habit

As little as 30 minutes of exercise per day can decrease your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, and premature death. You can benefit from lower blood pressure, decreased body fat, lower cholesterol levels, increased flexibility, and lessened arthritis symptoms. Scientists have long proven that regular exercise relaxes and revitalizes humans, and makes us feel better about ourselves.

4. Stop Smoking

There are numerous health and financial benefits to quitting smoking. Smoking is a known health risk, and smokers generally use about 25% more healthcare services than nonsmokers. Life insurance premiums for a smoker are almost double the premiums for nonsmokers, based on higher mortality rates and higher incidents of emphysema and other smoking-related diseases.

5. Drink Alcohol in Moderation

In addition to numerous health problems ranging from anemia, depression, seizures, and cirrhosis, excessive drinkers are more likely to be involved in car crashes. According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, someone is injured every minute in an alcohol-related crash.

Drink Alcohol Moderation6. Purchase High-Deductible Health Insurance

The purpose of health insurance is to transfer the risk of catastrophic healthcare costs to the insurance company. Day-to-day health issues, however, are intended to be an individual’s financial responsibility, as the individual is best suited to determine the severity of a disease and the need to seek treatment. Your assumption of expenses for typical, non-serious medical incidents and the use of high-deductible insurance will cut your healthcare premiums substantially while still protecting you from the extraordinary costs of a critical illness or trauma.

7. Establish a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Savings Account (FSA)

Health savings accounts were created in 2003 to allow individuals to save money for potential healthcare costs in combination with a high deductible health insurance plan. Contributions are tax-deductible, and withdrawals are tax-free as long they’re used for qualified medical expenses.

Flexible savings accounts are for employees covered by an employer-sponsored plan, and require that contributions be spent each year or they’ll be forfeited. However, the funds within the account can be used for a variety of qualified medical expenses, including dependent care. Note that you cannot contribute to both an HSA and FSA.

8. Make and Document End-of-Life Decisions

Medicare statistics calculate that one-quarter of Medicare expenditures are for the last year of life, undoubtedly reflecting aggressive care to extend life in those circumstances. Discuss the alternatives with your family, and do your best to make sure all family members accept your decision regarding do not resuscitate (DNR) instructions. Once documented, file the instructions with your regular physicians and attorney. The conversation about end-of-life decisions is also an important one to be held with older family members.

9. Maintain a Schedule of Regular Checkups

Many men who do not smoke and maintain a healthy lifestyle may only need a physical checkup every three years, not annually. Blood pressure should be checked every two years, cholesterol should be checked every five years, and a standard cancer exam is due every three years. Dental checkups should be completed every year, as an unhealthy mouth and tooth decay can lead to a myriad of problems when older. Your physician can help you develop an appropriate checkup schedule.

Final Word

Whether you believe healthcare is a right or a personal responsibility, all of us would concur that good health is a gift that justifies our constant attention. Staying active, eating right, avoiding harmful habits, and preparing financially for an unexpected illness or accident makes sense for individuals and families alike. It is the greatest insurance for a happy, stress-free future – and it doesn’t cost a thing.

What other ways can you suggest to save money on healthcare costs, and reduce the need for medical attention?

(photo credit: Bigstock)

Michael Lewis
Michael R. Lewis is a retired corporate executive and entrepreneur. During his 40+ year career, Lewis created and sold ten different companies ranging from oil exploration to healthcare software. He has also been a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC, a Principal of one of the larger management consulting firms in the country, and a Senior Vice President of the largest not-for-profit health insurer in the United States. Mike's articles on personal investments, business management, and the economy are available on several online publications. He's a father and grandfather, who also writes non-fiction and biographical pieces about growing up in the plains of West Texas - including The Storm.

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