You can't put a price on good health. You've heard the maxim, but in the era of high deductibles, caveat-riddled coverage, hidden fees and a healthcare system in flux, it's taken on a new meaning. Even if you have coverage, how do you budget for your health needs beyond the standard co-pays and insurance premiums? It's a question anyone who's ever received an unexpected medical bill has grappled with. According to a recent poll by Kaiser Family Foundation, 67% of over 1,100 people surveyed worried more about surprise medical bills than covering the cost of rent, food, electricity or insurance premiums.
In the same poll, 39% of insured adults under 65 claimed to have been hit with higher-than-expected medical bills in the past year—with some facing unexpected charges upwards of $2,000.
The truth is, health insurance doesn't guarantee you protection from medical-related debt. That doesn't mean you should pass on the care you need, but you don't have to be blindsided by the costs either. Arming yourself with information, doing your research and being your own advocate can make all the difference—for your health and your bank account. Here's what you need to know.
Avoid "in-network" loopholes
Just because a hospital or clinic is in your insurer's network, that doesn't guarantee the doctor treating you offers the same coverage. This is particularly common with surgical procedures that require multiple professionals. According to the Wall Street Journal, anesthesiologists, radiologists and pathologists are "the most likely to not accept many health plans." Meanwhile, specialists brought in for consultations and even MRI or blood-work could appear as an out-of-network charge on your medical bill.
To avoid added costs, contact the hospital in advance to request that all specialists and lab tests are in accordance with your network plan, and barring that, try to negotiate a rate beforehand. If you're still overcharged, you can contact a billing negotiator, (Consumer Affairs has a list of the best rated), which takes a cut from your reduced rate, or a nonprofit like Patient Advocate Foundation.
You can also advocate for yourself, as Forbes' Kelly Long did after a surgical procedure with an anesthesiologist that wasn't on her plan.
"In my case, I finally called the billing office of the anesthesiologist and asked if they would be willing to accept the amount my insurance was willing to accept," writes Long. "The billing associate consulted her manager and then offered me a 20% discount."
Ask about Facility Fees
Hospitals can charge for the use of their facility and equipment, which can be unavoidable in emergency situations. But if it's not a dire situation, or if your doctor works out of another location besides the hospital, it's possible to avoid the fee. Call ahead, ask about facility fees and whether there's a way to avoid them with a visit to another office.
Check for Billing Mistakes
Ever spotted a mistaken charge on a restaurant check? Medical facilities make mistakes too.
Calculate each item on the bill, and make sure there aren't erroneous procedures you didn't actually have. Here's the big one: Even if the procedure's name checks out on the bill, the CPT (current procedural terminology) code for a procedure could be wrong. You can find a list of codes at the American Medical Association's website. If your insurance company denied coverage for a procedure that you know is in your plan, make sure the code listed matches the procedure you had. If it doesn't, alert both your plan and the medical facility of the mistake.
If you're setting up an appointment for preventative care, check with your healthcare provider about what's covered, specifically the numeric codes for each procedure. Then, when booking the appointment, give those codes to the administrator to avoid mistakes later.
Other mistakes to look out for: double charges of the same procedure, misspelled names and inaccurate dates. Any one of these blips could lead your insurance to initially veto coverage.
Research your options—all of them
In an emergency, researching cost effectiveness should be the last thing on your mind. But if you've done your homework in advance, you'll save yourself a financial headache later. Check with your local fire department about the ambulance services in your area and confirm with your insurance provider that they're in your network. While you're at it, check in about your options for same-day care.
Providers, like Aetna, hospitals like NCH, and online platforms like Doctors On-Demand offer virtual care services, staffed by physicians on call to answer your immediate concerns and help you decide next steps. Most cost as little as a co-pay or offer a flat rate starting around $40.
If you need an immediate in-person visit and can't get an appointment with your primary care physician, you've still got options. Chain pharmacies like CVS offer walk-in clinics ($99-$129) for quickie problems such as sore throats or other minor issues, while urgent care facilities, which can start at $150 without coverage, offer wider services.
If your issue might be life-threatening (chest pains, shortness of breath, vomiting and other red alerts) it's time for a trip to the ER, which usually means a higher co-pay and resulting bill. But in times of crisis, money should be the last thing on your mind. But when you're feeling better, or better yet, before you get sick, you can arm yourself with even more information on ER fees and what to expect over at Vox, where they've launched a project aimed at exposing the hidden costs of Emergency Room visits. You can even help their cause by sharing your own bill.
The National Financial Educators Council (NFEC) surveyed young adults in 2017 and asked them what high school level course would benefit their lives the most.
The majority responded that money management was the course that would be most beneficial.
With personal debt is at its highest record and COVID-19 threatening to have the hardest economic effects on youth, understanding money and finances is an important life lesson that should be taught to children at a young age.
The following is a list of the best financial literacy lessons and tips to teach children throughout different life stages.
I thought I had a pretty good handle on my finances out of school. I worked several jobs while attending university and had little to no problem managing my income. However, once I graduated, I realized how much more complicated personal accounting could really be.
There were so many variables I needed to keep track of. Biweekly bills, monthly charges, and general necessities amounted to a heap of confusing numbers that were often impossible to decipher. The funniest part was that I was actually trying to do this by hand (I don't know what I was trying to prove to myself, either).
After messing up for the 17th time, I decided to give Microsoft Excel a shot. I used Excel a bit in school and I knew all the big-wig finance people used it, so what could I possibly have to lose? The answer is about six hours of my precious time. Excel isn't much of an improvement over handwriting and it's still dependent on the user to manually input all of the information. It's like doing everything by hand with the slightest help, meaning that it still required a tremendous amount of time and concentration. Well that was all for nothing, I guess.
It's sort of funny. I was certain that I could manage my personal finances with ease, when it's practically a full-time job. I was already stressed out enough with my first job and I knew I didn't have enough time to give my finances the attention it deserved.
That's why I decided to try out a budgeting app. My best friend told me that he uses an app called Truebill to manage his finances. "What does it even mean to manage your finances?" I asked him. He told me that Truebill was the personal financial assistant I wished I could have. It could aggregate all of my account information into one place and give me specific insights and actions.
I loved the idea of having full control over my finances, especially during a time of financial uncertainty, and I realized that Truebill would be the easiest way to accomplish this. The user interface is incredibly simple and intuitive, so it doesn't even feel like a finance app! Truebill offers a multitude of features, with their most popular being the ability to cancel subscriptions with the press of a button.
Okay, I had no idea how many subscriptions I was still subscribed to. In fact, I wasn't even using a quarter of the subscription services I was signed up for. Subscription boxes, streaming services, my old gym, and even an old subscription to my favorite magazine--it was all there and I was livid. How could I let myself waste all of this money and how did I never catch this? Thank goodness for Truebill.
Truebill also offers bill negotiations. There is a 40% fee based on how much you save and Truebill even claims that there is an 85% chance that they'll be able to lower your bill once a negotiation is requested. Why wouldn't I take them up on this? There was zero risk and I would only have to pay once my bill was lowered (which means that I would be saving money regardless).
More standard features of Truebill include the ability to generate a credit report on-demand and even request a pay advance. I only used the pay advance feature once when I wanted to buy a gift for my mom, but didn't have enough cash in hand and Truebill automatically reimbursed itself when I got my next paycheck.
The credit report is another fantastic feature and practically taught me what good credit meant. Truebill's credit report basically shows you which financial decisions have the most significant impact on your credit score and ways that you can improve your credit month-over-month. I've never had such control over my credit and it feels good.
I'll be the first to admit that I was extremely naive coming out of school. I figured that as long as I was attentive, I could manage my finances with ease. We manage money to some extent throughout our entire lives, but once you're thrown out on your own, it's a completely different story. With Truebill, I've finally been able to take control over my finances and stay on top of all of my responsibilities.
My buddies and I always try to make it out to a game, but we never really care which one we end up at. Obviously we have our favorite sports and teams, but it was rarely about what game we went to or who we saw playing. It was about watching the game live.
In the early months of lockdown, all we had was Korean baseball, and trust me, we loved it. The only issue was, none of us had any idea what the commentators were saying. Even then, a few of my friends weren't huge fans of baseball. They were into sports like football and basketball, ones that moved at a quicker pace with less down-time in between plays.
We decided to see if there were any other events going down and came across horse racing. Yes, horse racing. It was perfect--short, fast-paced, and most importantly, an opportunity for betting.
I had never really considered watching a horse race any time other than the Belmont Stakes, but the prospects of the sport seemed exhilarating. Even better, with horse racing we knew we could still recreate the atmosphere of a race track. Salty snacks? Check. Stale beer? Check. A simple and easy way to bet? Check.
One quick Google search later, we came across TVG, powered by FanDuel. It's an online betting platform that takes you right to the heart of the action. We were a little apprehensive about using a mobile app to place our bets, but TVG's ability to bet on live horse races from all over the world was too good to pass up.
Here are 5 reasons why we are obsessed with horse racing thanks to TVG:
1. Betting has never been easier
Use your phone or computer to watch and bet on live horse races in real-time. TVG offers a bunch of features to make betting even simpler--live odds and handicapping tips leverage recent learnings to help you make your best bet. Not to mention, TVG's exclusive race content and wagering guide offers an under-the-hood look into the strategy behind horse race betting.
2. The biggest selection of horse races out there
If you're looking to drop a little dough on a horse race, chances are your best option is your local race track. But watching the same few horses races over and over again isn't the most exciting thing. With TVG you have access to over 150 tracks worldwide with races happening consistently throughout the day.
3. Get a generous sign-up offer when you place your first bet
Once you register your account, you will be eligible for a $200 risk-free bet. All you have to do is place your first bet and you're covered. If you happen to lose, TVG will insure you for up to $200 as a sort of wagering credit. I may have been a little trigger happy when placing my first bet, so having this insurance was a great perk. There are also a bunch of promotional offers available year-round.
4. Making deposits and cashing out at the touch of button
With a ton of payment options such as PayPal, BetCash, debit/credit, wire transfers, and other third-party services, making a deposit is a breeze. But what about the payout? Depending on your deposit method, your withdrawal will be available in a few days. No more waiting in-line to collect your winnings!
5. Watching live races with your friends while betting is exhilarating
Even when we were watching Korean baseball, Zoom calls with my friends were a little dull.
With TVG, we haven't had this sort of fun in months! Every weekend we'll turn on a race and throw our bets in. After a few races, and quite a few drinks, we'll tally up our winnings to see who won the most! Sometimes it's not even about making money, but just having a good time.
TVG is the perfect way to add a little excitement to an otherwise mundane afternoon. It introduced me to the world of horse racing, a sport I never would have considered otherwise.
The races just keep ramping up and thanks to TVG, I can always get in on the fun.