How to Save Money on Medical Costs
According to CNBC, the average household spends around $5,000 annually per person on medical expenses. Since these expenses make up a hefty amount of our annual spending, dedicating some time and attention to understanding your options is a big factor in saving money in the medical world. We've put together the best practices to take advantage of in order to save money on medical costs.
Negotiate Medical Bills
I learned something a few weeks ago listening to one of my favorite podcasts, the ChooseFI podcast. It is possible to negotiate your medical bills! If only I had known that before paying about $10,000 out-of-pocket for the birth of my children.
Hospitals and providers will often negotiate with you on the bill. The reason: They don't want to lose out on money. As the guys over at ChooseFI explain it, most hospitals have a fairly short turnover time between trying to collect on a bill internally and turning it over to a debt collector. Hospitals, in turn, lose out on a lot of money because even if the debt collector is successful in getting the bill paid by the debtor, they never get the original bill amount back due to fees and commissions from the collector. Therefore, it's in the hospital or medical provider's best interest to negotiate with you.
According to Steve Neeleman, a board-certified physician, the best time to negotiate your medical bills is in the morning a few weeks after you received the bill.
If you have the option to pay the bill in full, ask for a paid-in-full discount. Be kind and courteous, but start with a lowball discount offer. Just like in any haggling, if they say no, you can try to slowly go up and meet at a middle figure.
Set up a payment plan
There is nothing wrong with telling the billing department that you simply cannot afford to pay the hospital bill. You can ask them to reduce it, to be put on a payment plan (which often doesn't charge any interest), or ask about any available programs that may help you pay it off. Modest Needs is one such organization. They are a non-profit organization that gives financial assistance to individuals and families who work and live above the poverty level and therefore don't qualify for social assistance. Other growing sources of funding are sites like Go Fund Me, whereby many people ask for donations on medical-related expenses.
Thoroughly check over medical bills
Medical bills look completely foreign to most people. One public opinion study found that 72% of patients don't fully understand what they owe. I, for one, never can understand most of the medical codes and jargon listed on medical bills. And unfortunately, most people, like me, are apt to simply hand over our hard-earned cash and pay whatever that "amount due" box tells us to. However, the Patient Advocate Foundation estimates that at least half of all medical bills contain errors, so it's definitely worth taking a closer look at your bills.
Understand your bill
To start, it's best to always ask for the itemized statement for your bill to see exactly what you are being charged for. Just by doing so, you might find you were erroneously charged for a service or item. If you believe something is wrong, you always have the option to file an appeal against your health insurance for any denied claims.
Next, research current procedural terminology (CPT) used in coding medical bills. You can perform a Google search for individual codes on your bill. Fair Health is a great resource for looking up estimated costs on medical procedures.
Check to see if you were billed for an inpatient or outpatient service. For example, check to make sure you weren't wrongfully charged as an inpatient for an overnight visit to the ER, as this usually should be charged as an outpatient, which costs significantly less.
Match up the medical codes on your bill with the insurance claim to make sure they match. Likewise, check for upcoding errors. This occurs when an unwarranted higher diagnostic pay code is entered on your bill. Some examples are when codes for complex anesthesia are used when simple sedation was performed, or a procedure was billed as being performed by a doctor when it was actually done by a nurse.
A great resource for people that don't want to do the research themselves is CoPatient. They will do the digging and negotiating for you. However, they do collect a fee from the money saved, but only if they are successful.
Shop around for Medical Care
Compare Insurance Options
It's important to understand your options when choosing a health care plan. With employer-sponsored coverage, medicare, individual insurance, Medicaid, and children insurance plans, it can be confusing trying to figure out which is your best option. Before making any decisions, you should look into each of your options and compare costs and benefits. Usually, employer-sponsored plans are cheaper than individual plans. However, you shouldn't assume that the health insurance plan offered through your employer will be a better option than choosing Medicaid.
Not all hospitals are equal. Nonprofit hospitals almost always charge patients less than their for-profit counterparts. If possible, it's best to find out how much your hospital options will cost you beforehand. The New York Times has a great tool that lets you search for hospitals near you and compare average costs.
Research HSAs and FSAs
Health savings accounts (HSA) are pre-tax savings accounts that allow you to set aside money for medical expenses. The benefits: You won't pay taxes on that money, and it will grow in interest! Many employers will even match the money you put in your HSA or give an employer contribution to the HSA.
A flexible spending account (FSA) is similar to HSAs in that the money is pre-tax for medical expenses and often entails employer contributions; however, in most instances, funds in an FSA must be used by each year-end, or the money will be forfeited.
The United States spends more money on healthcare than any other country. Unfortunately, experts don't believe the considerable increases in health care costs will lessen anytime soon. In fact, studies believe that healthcare spending will increase by about 5% annually from 2020-2027. The key takeaway from all of this is to understand your options and rights when paying for medical costs.
Looking for a job? In addition to encountering those annoying never-ending job interviews you may find yourself face-to-face with an artificial intelligence bot.
Companies worldwide increasingly use artificial intelligence tools and analytics in employment decision-making – from parsing through resumes and screening candidates to automated assessments and digital interviews. But recent studies claim that AI does more harm than good.
While AI screening tools were developed to save companies time and money, they’ve been criticized for placing women and people of color at a disadvantage. The problem is that many companies lack appreciable diversity in their data set, making it impossible for an algorithm to know how people from underrepresented groups have performed in the past. As a result, the algorithm will be biased toward the data available and compare future candidates to that archetype.
The City’s Automated Employment Decision Tools (AEDT) law is designed to offset the potential misuse of AI and protect job candidates against discrimination. It was enforced on July 5th, 2023 in New York City - with other cities and states expected to gradually follow suit. Employers must now inform applicants when and how they encounter AI. Furthermore, companies have to commission a third-party audit of the AI software used, and publish a summary of the results to prove that their systems aren’t racist or sexist. Job applicants are able to request information regarding what data is collected and analyzed by the AI. Violations of the law can result in fines of up to $1,500.
Replacing Human Hiring Decisions
However, should a job applicant want to opt-out of such impersonal judgement by a bot, the new law's scope is quite limited.
While the law specifies that instructions for requesting an alternative selection process must be included in the AI screening disclosure, companies aren't actually required to use other screening methods. Not to mention that the law only applies to AI in hiring and not any other employment decisions. It also wouldn't apply if the AI, for example, flags candidates with relevant experience, but a human then reviews all applications, making the ultimate hiring decision.
Some civil rights advocates and public interest groups argue that the law isn’t extensive enough and that it’s even unenforceable. On the other hand, businesses say that it’s impractical, costly, and burdensome, and that independent audits aren’t feasible.
Responsible use of AI in hiring
Although this law may be a good first attempt to assign more regulatory guardrails around AI, it remains to be seen if it ensures the responsible use of AI in hiring processes. At the end of the day, perhaps recruiting talent should remain a human-made decision.
The good news is that AI can help companies without harming potential job candidates in many ways – such as connecting new employees with internal organizational information and company benefits during onboarding. Or helping employees to do their jobs more effectively rather than replacing them.
There’s all this talk about solo travel. And for good reason — no wasting precious time waiting for others to get their act together, take the plans out of the group chat and actually buy the tickets. Going solo, you can be spontaneous. You can plan your trips according to your precise tastes. You can hop on any flight and fly awayyyyyy.
But what if each time you flew you’d get a free ticket? That’s what you get with the Southwest Companion Pass.
Award status, upgrades, lounge access — there are many perks in the frequent flier game. But one of the coveted holy grails is the Southwest Companion Pass.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Companion Pass is part of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. You get to choose one person to be your “companion,” and they fly with you for free (plus some taxes and fees) on every flight. That’s right. Two for the price of one. That’s half off each ticket if you split it! Whether you’re flying with a partner, family member, friend, or anyone else, they can tag along for free.
And it gets better: once you earn the pass, you can reap the rewards for that full calendar year … AND the next. That’s why people go mad trying to earn a companion pass during the early months of the year. The sooner you qualify, the longer you can use it.
There are also no blackout dates. There are no limits. And if you didn’t purchase the ticket (think: work travel, your companion, or a generous benefactor), there are no restrictions! As long as you’re the one on the plane, your companion can also … be on the plane.
You can also switch out your designated companion 3x a year. So, no need to stay in a relationship simply to get the most out of your companion pass! Ghost and fly away — with a whole new companion!
If this sounds too good to be true — it’s not. But there is one small catch. It’s kinda tough to earn this mega reward.
How to qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass?
You can qualify for the pass in one of two ways:
- Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights
- Earn 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.
Clearly, this is no small feat — especially if you’re trying to qualify ASAP.
So how do you actually earn the Southwest Companion Pass?
Don’t worry, there’s a path to earning this amazing reward without climbing on 100 flights or spending an exorbitant amount of money.
Earning 135K reward points may seem completely impossible, but it’s easier than it sounds. Simply sign up for a Southwest Credit Card and turn those spending habits into a rapid rewards account. Through the Rewards Priority Credit Card, earn points when using local transit and commuting, plus score major points and miles whenever you spend.
Stay with me here. This is not some scheme to get you into credit card debt. Many airline cards come with potential savings, giantic rewards, awarding you points, and cashback with every purchase you make that can be redeemed for travel. And often they can come with passive sign-up bonuses. If you spend a specific amount of money within a certain timeframe of opening the card, you can be in for a windfall of points.
Now that’s where the companion pass comes in:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest Performance Business Credit Card
Southwest has three personal cards and a business card. Each of these cards offers rewards between 30K-80K points. In the past, people could open two cards and get a bonus that granted enough points to almost meet the minimum. However, with new restrictions on personal cards, you can only get one bonus every 24 months. Boo!
However, this doesn’t apply to business cards. If you’re eligible, have good credit, and not likely to spiral into insane credit card debt, you can open a business card and a personal card, and accrue 100K+ points. The Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card will get you points after you spend money in no time.
Now to earn the rest of them.
The secret to gaining these credit card points is to plan your card sign-ups around big purchases. Just before a recent move, I opened a card . . . and the rewards came rolling in — a small balm to ease the pain of how exorbitant moving can be.
Put everyday spend — especially big purchases or bulk items — on your Southwest credit card and watch your award points quickly add up. Typically, you earn 1 point per $1 spent on your Southwest card and 2 points per $1 on actual Southwest purchases.
But there are other ways to earn points, including:
- Flying Southwest: Booking travel on Southwest earns more points. The cost of this travel will be worth it with your companion pass
- Shopping from Rapid Rewards Partners: Purchases with Southwest’s “Home & Lifestyle” and “Shop and Dine” Partners also earn Companion Pass qualifying points. While you shouldn’t make gratuitous purchases, browse Southwest’s partners to see if you could earn extra points for items you'd be purchasing anyway. All this, simply from enrolling in their Dining Program and shopping with their partners.
So there you have it! And since it’s almost Spring, get to earning and soon you’ll be flying two for the price of one!