Health insurance provides important protections against unexpected medical costs. But not everyone utilizes their coverage to its fullest potential. Simple strategies can help you maximize what your health plan offers and avoid out-of-pocket surprises.
Choose the Right Plan
Perhaps the most significant step involves selecting the optimal health plan in the first place. Important factors include:
- Premium affordability – Set a monthly premium budget and prioritize plans within that range.
- Plan type preferences – Decide if you want more provider choice through a PPO or POS, or don’t mind a limited HMO network in exchange for lower costs.
- Covered services – Verify all medications, doctors, and health needs are included based on plan details.
- Cost sharing amounts – Calculate total estimated spending based on deductibles, copays, and coinsurance rates.
- Annual out-of-pocket maximum – Choose a limit protecting you from excessive healthcare costs for serious medical events.
Take time to carefully compare all available options during open enrollment to find your ideal balance of access, benefits, and affordability.
Also, Check this as well Preventive Health Services Covered by Insurance Plans
Use In-Network Providers
Staying in-network is key. Seeing out-of-network doctors, facilities, labs, or other providers results in significantly higher personal costs and often balance billing.
Exceptions are emergencies or services ordered by an in-network physician at an out-of-network facility. Always confirm network status before any planned healthcare visits or procedures.
Get Preventive Care
Most health plans fully cover a range of recommended preventive services like immunizations, cancer screenings, yearly physicals, and well-child visits when seeing providers in your network.
Taking advantage of this benefit helps you stay up to date on important wellness care without having to meet your deductible first or any copay. Preventive medicine can help catch issues early before they become serious illness.
Use Tax-Advantaged Accounts
Funds contributed to tax-advantaged accounts like Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) or Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) help pay for out-of-pocket medical costs tax-free.
Maximize pre-tax contributions through payroll deductions using an HSA or FSA. Be sure to use the funds by required deadlines to avoid losing accumulated contributions.
Compare Prescription Costs
If medications have unaffordable copays even after meeting your deductible, check if lower cost alternatives exist:
- Discuss generic availability with your doctor. Generics typically have the lowest copays.
- Review your plan’s formulary tiers to understand options and pricing.
- Ask about 90-day mail order supplies to lower per-fill costs.
- Compare prescription drug prices at different in-network pharmacies.
- Enroll in pharmacy discount clubs for added savings if paying full retail price.
Learn Prior Authorization Rules
Insurers require pre-authorization for certain high-cost services to ensure medical necessity and determine coverage details. Understand requirements for things like:
- Inpatient hospital admissions and transfers
- Outpatient surgeries
- Durable medical equipment
- Home healthcare
- Skilled nursing facility care
Following proper protocols gets claims paid promptly. You want to avoid care delays or surprise denials.
Use Telehealth Visits
Telehealth lets you conveniently consult with doctors by phone or video chat 24/7 for minor illnesses and questions. Visit copays are often less than in-person appointments.
Telehealth provides easy access to care while keeping costs low. Reserve doctor office visits for necessary physical exams or tests.
Compare Costs for Shoppable Services
Prices for healthcare services can vary greatly across providers. Comparison shop and consider less expensive alternatives where possible for uninsured care or before meeting your deductible:
- Labs and imaging – Compare costs between independent clinics like blood draw centers, urgent care clinics, and hospital outpatient centers.
- Prescriptions – Review prices between nearby pharmacies. Some offer lower fixed fees for common generic drugs. Apps like GoodRx also compare rates.
- Clinical procedures – Ask for cost estimates upfront for non-emergency services like MRIs, colonoscopies, or knee surgery.
Understand Billing and EOBs
Carefully review all medical bills and your plan’s Explanation of Benefits statements checking for:
- Errors like duplicate charges or services you didn’t receive
- Application of contracted rates and agreed upon cost sharing
- Clear billed amounts that match your responsibility after insurance
Monitoring billing details prevents overpaying for healthcare services received.
Use Authorized Out-of-Network Providers
Seeing out-of-network doctors results in you paying more. But in some cases, insurers will cover out-of-network providers at in-network rates if receiving pre-authorization first, such as:
- Your plan lacks providers for a specialty treatment in-network
- You need continued care from a doctor who has left your network
- You moved to a new area but want to stay with current providers temporarily
This requires submitting documentation and having the insurer approve the exception. But it means you keep coverage and lower personal costs for necessary services.
Appeal Claim Denials
If insurance only partially covers or denies a claim, you can request an internal appeal where clinical experts review the details. Provide any supplemental medical records or billing codes supporting your position for maximum reimbursement under your benefits.
Winning appeals gets previously denied charges covered as appropriate. Don’t leave money on the table by neglecting to contest questionable claim decisions.
Use Healthcare Sharing Programs
Health sharing ministries offer an alternative to traditional insurance where members contribute monthly to help pay one another’s eligible medical bills per program guidelines and member vote approval.
If uninsured and ACA plans have unaffordable premiums or deductibles based on your income, sharing programs provide some assistance for healthcare costs in a non-insurance format.
Supplement with Specialized Plans
Supplemental insurance like dental, vision, critical illness, accident, or hospital indemnity plans helps pay for care in areas where your medical insurance falls short.
For example, adding a dental plan gets coverage for services like fillings, crowns, and orthodontia typically not included on medical plans. Supplemental plans provide financial assistance for health needs beyond your primary coverage.
Making the most of health insurance requires understanding your plan’s full breadth of benefits. Follow these tips to maximize covered services while minimizing avoidable costs for the healthcare you need.
Have a Primary Care Provider
A primary care provider coordinates your overall care including wellness visits, managing chronic conditions, performing checkups, and referring to specialists as needed. Having an assigned PCP helps:
- Provide consistent, personalized care over time that understands your health history and needs.
- Give access to routine care instead of waiting for the emergency room with a known provider.
- Appropriately diagnose conditions early before they worsen through regular care.
- Smooth referrals to network specialists you are otherwise unlikely to find independently.
- Meet any requirements for assigned PCPs under plans like HMOs.
Ongoing relationships with PCPs often lead to better health outcomes long-term.
Use Urgent Care Clinics
Urgent care facilities treat non-life threatening injuries and illnesses on a walk-in basis for conditions like:
- Sprains, strains, and minor broken bones
- Minor cuts and lacerations needing stitches
- Skin rashes and skin infections
- Flu symptoms, bronchitis, pneumonia and sinus infections
- Eye injuries or infections
- Severe sore throat or earaches
- Painful urination indicating possible urinary tract infection
- Minor asthma attacks
Visits typically cost much less than an ER while providing faster access to care for these conditions compared to waiting on a doctor appointment. Many insurers exempt urgent care facilities from deductibles and charge a fixed copay amount instead.
Save On Prescription Eyewear
Vision insurance often only pays a set allowance toward eyeglasses or contact lenses. But other savings options exist:
- Take advantage of free eye exams from retailers like Costco Optical using your vision benefits, then buy discounted frames and lenses out-of-pocket.
- Ask your ophthalmologist for your full glasses prescription to allow price comparisons at different optical retailers.
- Select budget-friendly frames and lens options like polycarbonate for thin, lightweight lenses.
- Shop sales and coupons from retailers like Warby Parker to maximize savings on prescription eyewear purchases.
Proper vision correction is important for daily functioning. Use insurance for exams, then creatively save on materials.
Leverage Healthcare Sharing Networks
For uninsured individuals, health sharing ministries provide an alternative to insurance. Members contribute to help cover others’ eligible medical bills. Consider for:
- Young adults not on employer or family plans. Lower contribution plans with high deductibles exist.
- Early retirees needing a bridge to Medicare eligibility at 65.
- Insurance cost assistance for individuals, families, or self-employed.
- Meeting health coverage requirements to avoid tax penalties when insurance unaffordable.
- Complementing supplemental plans to add access to doctor/hospital care funds.
Health sharing networks are not insurance. But these non-profit programs can provide extra assistance for major costs when affordable insurance options are few.
Understand Coordination of Benefits
If covered under two health plans, coordination of benefits rules determine which insurer pays first:
- The plan covering you as the employee usually has primary responsibility.
- When covering dependent children, the parent whose birthday falls first in the year is generally the primary insured.
- Medicare pays secondary to employer coverage when someone is eligible for both.
Know proper coordination helps maximize total coverage across plans. Ask insurers about your COB status when submitting claims.
Use Online Member Portals
Create logins for your health insurer and pharmacy benefit manager web portals. You can conveniently:
- View and organize digital insurance cards
- Look up plan details like benefits, deductibles, and out-of-pocket totals
- Access and compare formulary drug tiers and pricing
- Find in-network providers and facilities
- Check coverage specifics for medications
- View, download, and share Explanation of Benefits statements
- Estimate costs and care options using tools
Easy access to online resources helps you manage healthcare usage wisely.
Appeal Coverage Denials
You have the right to appeal if your health plan denies coverage for a procedure, treatment, or medication based on lack of medical necessity or investigational status. Steps include:
- File a written appeal requesting the review including your reasoning.
- Request your full medical records and criteria used for the denial be considered.
- Ask your doctor to detail why services or prescriptions are required for your situation.
Following proper protocols gives reconsideration if initial coverage determinations overlook key aspects of your health status or treatment plan. Don’t hesitate to fight denials.
Leveraging all avenues of financial assistance, cost savings, and coverage appeals ensures you maximize health insurance value each year.
Frequently Asked Questions About Health Insurance Benefits
What tips help choose the right health plan during open enrollment?
- Estimate your total costs including premiums, deductibles, and prescription expenses based on different plan options and your expected healthcare needs.
- Consider adding supplemental plans like dental insurance if the medical benefits fall short.
- Check that your providers are in-network before selecting a plan.
- If taking ongoing medications, review formulary drug tiers for affordability.
- For families, look for a deductible offering the right amount of risk you can accept.
What discounts are available when paying for medical care before meeting my deductible?
- Ask providers for prompt-pay or cash discounts when settling bills instead of going through insurance.
- Review if docs offer flat rates for common services needed like x-rays or stitches when paid upfront.
- Check online coupons for things like imaging centers, labs, or dental care.
- Use tax-advantaged accounts to pay bills and get tax savings.
How can I estimate my out-of-pocket costs for a procedure?
- Get the billing codes or specific test names. Call your insurer to check coverage details and estimate allowed amounts.
- Ask your provider for the typical contract rate range between plans and your coinsurance percentage.
- Compare potential facility costs between having it at a hospital versus ambulatory surgery center.
- Incorporate likely expenses like anesthesia or specialists assisting into the estimate.
What tips help appeal a claim or coverage denial?
- Act fast within your insurer’s outlined appeals timeframe, often 180 days from the denial.
- Request a peer-to-peer review where your doctor can speak directly with a clinical reviewer.
- Have your doctor provide supporting medical evidence and a letter of necessity for the denied treatment.
- Outline how lack of approval adversely impacts your daily functioning and health.
- For drugs, explain why alternatives on the formulary have failed or are inappropriate for treating your condition.
Carefully choosing plans, maximizing benefits, and appealing questionable denials allows you to fully leverage the value of your health insurance coverage.