If you’re anything like me, you tend to think of people using their refunds as down payments on cars, to afford vacations or, in the case of Tim’s spendy friends, blowing it on unnecessary stuff like a race car bed (sigh).
But it looks like a lot of people are being more pragmatic than we (or at least I) tend to give them credit for.
Timing medical care
A recent J. P. Morgan study found that a large chunk of refunds are going to health care. More specifically, to health care that people have probably been putting off.
It looks like people were specifically waiting until they got their refunds to see the doctors. The study found that healthcare spending rose 60% in the week following people’s receiving their refunds. And it remained 20% higher than usual for about 75 days.
Of that, 62% of the spending was done in person. So this wasn’t just people paying overdue bills. Clearly, many of them made appointments — ones which were probably overdue according to a recent Gallup poll.
Skipping medical care
The poll found that one in four Americans chose not to receive treatment due to cost concerns. It’s not clear whether some of them planned to use tax refunds to pay for it later, but the fact that they at the very least deferred recommended services is worrisome.
I’ve only ever put off a procedure once. That was when they wanted me to have another D&C after one of my miscarriages. I only put it off because it was going to cost $978, and I knew there had to be cheaper options.
So I cancelled the procedure while I looked around, and sure enough I found that Planned Parenthood was under $200. (Which was still more than letting nature take its course, but things had stalled out on that front and besides, at least this way no parsley was required.)
Having only deferred health care once — and only when I still intended to get it done in a reasonable time frame — it terrifies me to think of putting off a procedure indefinitely. Or even just until April. What if it’s May or June when you get the recommendation for treatment?! Would you really wait 10-11 months?
So yes, the idea of postponed care worries me greatly, but I suppose it shouldn’t actually surprise me. After all, Americans had to borrow $88 billion — billion! — to pay for medical costs just this past year.
That’s an absurd amount — even worse when you consider that only 12% of Americans borrowed money. So it’s not surprising that so many people went without care because they wouldn’t (or couldn’t) borrow the funds.
And speaking of ridiculous numbers, Americans spent $3.5 trillion — trillion! — on health care in 2017. That’s an average of $10,700 per American. It’d be laughable if it didn’t make me want to cry.
Worse, it doesn’t seem that far off the mark if you have chronic conditions.
I’ve itemized medical expenses twice in the past few years. The first time was obviously when Tim got his teeth done. I mean, that alone was $26,000. We had more than enough to make itemizing the smart route.
But the following year, despite not having any real noteworthy expenses, we spent $18,796 on medical expenses. That’s an average of $9,398 each.
Granted, we were spending $200 a month on Tim’s massages alone, and we were spending about $250-300 a month on Tim’s medications. (This was before I found GoodRX.) Still, that leaves almost $13,000, which is a lot of co-pays for just two people.
With all these costs, it’s no wonder people have very mixed feelings about our health care system.
Forty eight percent of respondents said that our health care was among the best or the best in the world but when asked about quality of care compared to the costs, 31% said it was the worst/among the worst in the world.
That’s quite a disparity, but I think it makes sense. We do have good levels of care here (depending, as always, on the doctor you get), but the audacious pricing in this country, which is a byproduct of high education costs and low insurance payouts, means that our health care system simply can’t compete with a lot of the ones in countries with socialized medicine.
Instead, the best a lot of people can do, apparently, is wait for those yearly refund checks and hope for the best in the meantime.
Get treatment, people!
While it sounds obvious — but apparently isn’t to a fair number of people — it’s vital that you don’t put off a doctor’s visit if you have a medical issue. Even small things can quickly spiral out of control and get more dangerous. And if that doesn’t convince you, how about the fact that they can get significantly pricier if care is delayed?
Remember how I went septic from a routine UTI in a matter of days? A quick, $75 trip to the ER (since I was traveling) would have saved me hundreds. Instead, I spent two nights in the hospital; and, while I had good insurance, I still ended up shelling out around $350.
A friend of my mom’s recently had a cut get infected. It turned out to be staph and got so bad that she couldn’t walk. She ended up having to undergo emergency surgery (and will now have two very large scars on her leg from where they had to cut out the infection). I’m sure the ER bill will be at least as unsightly as the scars.
So, yeah, please please please go get seen when an issue arises. And if you’re worried about cost, then keep reading.
How to save on health care
Sliding scale care: There are more than 8,500 health centers nationwide that offer care based on your ability to pay. Some even offer more extensive services such as dental, vision and mental health care.
Public health clinics: These offer more basic health care services, such as well-child exams, immunizations, pregnancy testing, STI testing, etc. But they may also offer some mental health care.
Free clinics: The National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics will help you find one of the 1,200 nationwide locations of free or low-cost healthcare. You can search by zip code or city and state.
Compare costs: Sites like Fair Health Consumer and Healthcare Bluebook will tell you what procedures will cost at different facilities so that you can be sure to go to the one with the most affordable pricing.
Fair Health Consumer will even tell you what insurance would pay the doctor. So if you don’t have insurance, you could see whether your doctor will accept a cash payment of that amount. This means the doctor doesn’t have to pay to bill insurance, so it’s worth his or her while to consider it.
Pay cash (now): Speaking of offering cash… Even if the doctor won’t give you a break on the procedure cost, you can offer to pay in cash at the time of service, which usually nets you a 3% to 5% discount.
Save on meds: Some grocery store pharmacies offer certain medications for free. These are mainly antibiotics, generic Lipitor, prenatal/children’s vitamins, etc., but it’s worth seeing whether any of your drugs could be free. Participating supermarkets include Amigos United, Giant Eagle, Meijer, Price Chopper, Publix, Reasor’s, Schnucks, ShopRite and Wegman’s. Check to see if your supermarket is one.
If you can’t get the meds free, it’s worth going over to GoodRx for any drugs with high copays. I’m saving $1,200 this year alone on generic medication thanks to some $37, $60 and even $90 would-be copays that I’m circumventing with GoodRx.
Save on dental: The best way to save is, of course, to find free care. But pro bono dentists are few and far between, so the next best thing is to go to a dental school.
If your service isn’t offered there, or if being treated by dental students makes you nervous, I recommend dental discount plans. I saved several hundred on a root canal and a few hundred on a crown thanks to a dental discount plan.
These are also great for braces, dentures and even routine cleanings, especially if you need x-rays. Ask your dentist if he or she participates. If so — or if you’re willing to shop around for a dentist that does — check out options on DentalPlans.com and get 10% cash back through Mr. Rebates.
Buy yourself some time: If you can’t save on the procedures themselves, at least save yourself some interest. There are companies that offers loans for medical services at 0% for the first year. The pamphlets are usually in your doctor’s office — especially in dentists’ and pricey specialists’ offices.
Or buy yourself a little extra time with a 0% APR card like Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards card or Chase Freedom Unlimited card. Both offer 15 months at 0%. Added benefits: The Quicksilver card offers a $150 welcome bonus, and Freedom Unlimited just began offering 3% cash back on the first $20,000 spent in your first year. That bonus or cash back sure could help you pay down the balance faster!
Just be sure to have a plan in place to pay off the card in 15 months so that you’re not charged any interest.
Have you ever put off medical care due to cost concerns? What are some other ways to save on health care?