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Making Smart Choices with Your High-Deductible Health Plan

Posted Jan 06 2011 4:53pm
Happy New Year! For those of you that just signed up for a high-deductible health insurance plan (HDHP), welcome to the group of 22 million other people that are already enrolled in these type of plans.

So now that you signed up for a high-deductible health-insurance plan next comes the hard part: making smart decisions about your health care spending since you're now responsible for more upfront out-of-pocket expenses.

High deductible health plans typically have significantly lower premiums, but much higher deductibles, than other plans. For 2011, high-deductible plans will have a minimum annual deductible of $1,200 for an individual and $2,400 for a family, according to the Internal Revenue Service. The maximum out-of-pocket limits for an individual in network is $5,950 and $11,900 for a family.

The good news is that under the new health-care law, many more high-deductible plans now cover preventive care, such as annual checkups and recommended immunizations, as well as typical tests including mammograms and colon-cancer screenings. The best way to maximize your dollars using a high-deductible health plan is to fully understand what's covered by the plan and what is applied to your high deductible.

As far as expenses that are out-of-pocket, there are a number of ways to maximize your money. Of course, the obvious one is to take better control of your health by eating well and exercising so you end up having to go to the doctor less often. Here are some useful tips to help you make your health care dollars go further.
  1. Consider using a cheaper, generic version of a brand-name drug when appropriate.  Be sure to talk with your doctor about less expensive generic alternatives that provide you with the same results.
  2. Talk to your doctor about the costs of a recommended treatment and any alternatives. Sometimes there are cheaper alternatives that that doctors don’t always bring up because they think your health plan covers all the costs.
  3. One of the biggest savings can come from using the health savings accounts offered with many high-deductible plans. You contribute to these accounts with pretax dollars and use the money, tax-free, to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses. Unused money can be carried over into future years.
  4. If possible try to use urgent care centers rather than Emergency Rooms. This can save you hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars.
  5. Try to stay in-network. Providers in-network can be a lot less expensive. If you go out of network sometimes you can offer to pay cash for services and receive up to 50% discount. Be aware that if you choose to pay cash, this medical expense will not be applied to your deductible.
  6. Compare prices for health care services before visiting a provider. The Wall Street Journal published a directory consumers can use to look up prices, or you can view a list of public websites that provide health care pricing .

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