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7 ways to prevent and tackle rising medical costs and debt

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Posted at 11:19 AM, Feb 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-27 19:09:23-05

Medical bills and debt can rack up — in a hurry.

That's why Denver7 is making a commitment to exposing flaws in our healthcare system and taking it a step further with a new partnership that will literally pay down some of that debt. Thanks to a donation from Denver7, a non-profit called RIP Medical Debt is erasing $1.5 million worth of debt in Colorado. Read more about our partnership with RIP Medical Debt here.

There are also several ways to prevent and tackle the rising costs of medical bills. Here are 7 tips to lessen the burden for you and your family.

Take advantage of prescription discounts

Prescription drug prices can get extremely high, and often insurance only covers a portion of the costs. But coupons and finding lower prices between different pharmacies can greatly reduce what you end up paying out of pocket. GoodRX, a free app, shows prices and discounts at various pharmacies, so you can find the lowest cost.

Get a health savings account

A health savings account, or HSA, is a savings account that can be used just for medical costs. Many employer insurance plans offer an HSA, which allows you to make tax-free contributions, up to $3,550 for an individual or $7,100 for a family. Depending on your plan, your employer may contribute to your HSA as well.

Get an advocate

Even if you fully understand the intricacies of our healthcare system, the costs are expensive. But having an advocate to help you navigate the confusion could help you save money, too. An advocacy group like Colorado Consumer Health Initiative helps consumers write appeal letters for their healthcare coverage and with questions about their bills.

CCHI recently pushed for a law to protect Colorado patients against something called surprise medical billing.

How to save on mental health costs

Mental health costs can rack up in a hurry, too. An easy way to find the most affordable provider is simply knowing all of your options. Psychology Today has a searchable database of therapists in your area. The tool allows you to filter results based on your insurance provider and your mental health needs. It also shows a therapist's cost per session and whether they offer a sliding scale on the price.

Stay organized

This is a simple one. But keep track of your medical bills and documents! And keep them organized so you can access them easily. This includes your explanation of benefits, or EOB, that you receive from your insurance provider after you make a claim. The Patient Advocate Foundation has a good explainer about your explanation of benefits — and how that relates to the bills you receive from the doctor — but don't hesitate to reach out to your medical provider if you have questions. As the Patient Advocate Foundation warns, errors happen all the time and it's better to verify your bill, than pay more than necessary.

Ask for a payment plan

Healthcare providers will often have a payment plan option, if you can't pay the entire bill at once. While this does extend how long you'll be paying healthcare costs, it does make the payments much more manageable. Talk with your provider about what plans are available and how they fit your needs.

Apply for charity care

Many hospitals offer several means of financial assistance, or charity care, for patients, though you have to meet certain guidelines to qualify for the aid. The HealthONE system in the Denver area, for example, has a charity care policy that applies to uninsured patients who come to the system's facilities for emergency treatment. The policy provides financial relief for qualified patients, based on comparison of their finances to the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

Ask your healthcare provider for information specific to their charity care policy