After getting diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when I was 13, I struggled with my health, and medical bills, throughout my teenage years. My family was fortunate to have good health insurance through my mom’s work, but I knew the expenses were still a major stressor on my parents.
As a teen thinking about my own future, I feared being denied coverage due to my preexisting condition. I worried about the cost of medication, specialty appointments, and routine procedures that I knew would be necessary to manage my illness. And most of all, I worried about having to pay astronomical monthly premiums
But as it turns out, it wasn’t as complicated as I once thought.
These are some tips for navigating the various types of medical expenses you might have as a newly independent 20-something.
The good news is that routine appointments like seeing your primary care provider for a physical are often completely covered under basic health insurance plans, so take advantage of them! These days, many PCPs are doing virtual appointments as well, so you don’t even have to leave your couch.
If you’re healthy, you’ll only have to see your PCP once a year, so set aside any cost for that appointment (like a copay) in your yearly budget. To be super safe, you can do this by setting up a separate high-yield savings account for health-related expenses (if you don’t have an HSA provided by your employer) and stashing that amount there until you need it for your appointment. Then, when your appointment rolls around, you’ll have that money available no matter what else is going on at the time.
Urgent care and ER visits are stressful when they happen (like that one time I thought I had a bad cold, only to find out in urgent care it was actually tonsillitis… yikes), but they are manageable. Fortunately, an urgent care visit should also be covered under your insurance along with a copay. You can budget for this expense by thinking about how often you get sick enough to need a doctor. If you’re generally healthy, budget for once or twice a year to be safe. As soon as you can, add this amount to your designated health expenses savings account.
However, a visit to the ER can come with a hefty price tag. But again, you have options:
- If you can, have someone you trust accompany you to the ER and note everything that happens: medications you receive, scans, procedures, doctors. Keep your own records, not only to know what treatment you’re getting, but also to double check against your bill later.
- Review your bill carefully.
- Question suspicious charges; you’d be surprised how often people are overcharged for services.
Whether it’s medication, doctor’s appointments, or even therapy –- you have to save for chronic medical expenses just like you would budget for food each month.
To treat my chronic illness, I had $3,000 in medical bills for an intravenous medication I tried last year, and I managed to pay it off by setting up a payment plan and eventually using my tax return to knock out the rest. It was a doozy, but I got through it. You can get through it, too:
- Create a separate savings account for chronic medical expenses and figure out what you need to contribute to it each month to cover your medication/therapy/appointments, etc. If you can, contribute a little more than you need.
- For a large expense, establish a payment plan with the hospital/clinic: Remember that unlike your student loans, they legally cannot charge you interest on medical bills, so there’s no reason not to spread it out and make it easier on yourself.
When I had that huge expense to pay off, I just reminded myself to take it one step at a time. While it was annoying to have that extra bill each month, I did feel better just knowing that I had a plan in place to pay it off, and I could adjust the payments over time if I had to.
If you thought conventional medical treatments were expensive, just wait until you peek into the alternative side of medicine. Depending on your location, treatments like chiropractic care, massage therapy, or seeing a naturopathic doctor can easily run into the hundreds –- or even thousands — of dollars and usually aren’t covered by insurance. But, if conventional treatment does not work for you, this is often well worth the price tag. To minimize and manage costs:
- Take advantage of treatment packages.
- Ask the provider if they can accommodate a payment plan. Since most alternative providers don’t work with insurance companies, they may be willing to negotiate a payment schedule with you directly.
- Create your own “payment plan” by opening a 0% interest credit card and paying off the balance over time.
Whether you rarely get a sniffle or you’re managing a chronic condition every day, planning for health care expenses is a part of adulthood. In addition to health insurance premiums, purposefully setting aside income for health-related expenses gives me peace of mind should I fall and break my elbow while rollerblading (which actually happened to a friend of mine) or have to turn to alternative medicine to manage chronic illness (which actually happened to me).
Remember that you have the tools to manage health care costs wisely.