Future Healthy: Approaching health care costs like a consumer

While many of the articles that appear in Future Healthy are focused on long-term savings and retirement, your future financial wellness is based on every spending decision you make today. Maybe the idea of negotiating health care prices like you're buying a car seems weird, but if there's ways to keep more money in your pocket, we're here to help you find them.

That's because it pays to shop around, even when it comes to medical care. According to a 2017 report by the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 40% of adults 18-64 with employer-sponsored health insurance had high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). And it makes sense -- for relatively healthy people, HDHPs offer lower monthly premiums, and good coverage of basic preventive care. This is a wise spending decision, if you're relatively healthy.

But, because HDHP owners are responsible for the full costs of health care up until their deductible is paid in full for the year, customers should be more motivated to do a little comparison shopping for medications, products and services before making appointments.

So far, it doesn't seem like that's happening. According to a study from JAMA Internal Medicine, just 25% of HDHP owners discussed pricing with their providers, with a shocking 6% actually negotiating to lower prices of needed services. In other words, even though these patients are going to pay out-of-pocket for treatment, they're apparently not motivated to bargain.

But, if you have an HDHP (and hopefully an HSA to go with it) bargaining might make a big difference in your out-of-pocket costs as you work towards your deductible (and your long-term savings). Here are just a few of the many online resources available to boost your buying decisions.

Know the "fair price" for a procedure

You wouldn't walk into an auction with a $100 bill and expect to walk out with a Rembrandt. And you can't approach providers with a low-ball approach to finding the best price of treatment. That's where Healthcare Bluebook comes in.

This company was founded to create fairness in the healthcare marketplace, because a lack of visibility into the price of treatment. Run by a collective group of physicians, technicians and even financial strategists, Healthcare Bluebook gives you both price and quality comparisons to make you a smarter health consumer.

Start shopping around

New Choice Health seems similar to Healthcare Bluebook, but is a little more focused on giving you data on the best procedure prices. And they do it by having health care providers "compete" for your business, basically bidding on giving you the best possible care at a fair price.

The site also lists average costs of procedures (large and small), and allows you to contact them directly to save time and frustration.

Also, think about the value of your time. If you have an HDHP with a health savings account, and need to buy health care products, you can spare yourself the trouble of wondering about eligibility by shopping for 100% guaranteed HSA-eligible products at the site you're currently on.

(You didn't think we weren't going to mention our own site, did you?)

Don't skimp on quality

After seeing these links, you might have more motivation to save, but that means nothing if the quality of your healthcare isn't good. (In other words, that $199 colonoscopy banner ad? Don't bother clicking it.) Instead, turn to online tools that aggregate ratings, reviews, prices and more to help price-conscious patients find the best possible resources.

Organizations like The Leapfrog Group have spent the last 20 years encouraging purchasers and patients to be transparent, to improve health care safety and quality. They collect and report data for patients to choose the right hospital, whether it's about departments, treatments, or even overall satisfaction ratings. Patients can then make more informed decisions about their next steps.

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Whether it's for covering medical expenses, or planning bigger investments, our Future Healthy column will help support your path to retirement, no matter where you are on the journey. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to check out our HSA Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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