Planning for retirement can be challenging because there are plenty of variable expenses to look at, the biggest variable among which is related to healthcare. Medical bills can quickly add up after retirement because health generally may drastically deteriorate with age and because the cost of good medical care is slowly rising with time. This means any sum of money in your savings account may eventually run out while footing these bills, leading to medical debt.
The obvious solution may be to get a robust health insurance policy with extensive coverage, but that can be costly on its own. The truth is, one can never achieve peace of mind regarding the future, but there are certain steps one can take to cut healthcare costs, even if you have an adequate insurance policy and plenty of money saved up.
We’ll look at the various cost cutting techniques as two broad groups:
Prevention is better than cure
Cost cutting post-diagnosis
Prevention is better than cure
This proverb holds true for both medical and non-medical conditions, because it’s easier to stay away from a problem than to find a solution. There are a few good ways to practice this with regards to your health.
1. Maintain good hygiene to keep your health
“Handwashing is like a “do-it-yourself” vaccine—it involves five simple and effective steps (Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry) you can take to reduce the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illness so you can stay healthy.” Centre for Disease Control
This obvious tip can save you from a lot of diseases in the long run, which is why it cannot be emphasized enough. Washing your hands diligently, for instance, can prevent the transfer of many viral and bacterial infections that require visits to your doctor. There is certainly no need to be a clean freak, but simple habits like bathing every day and carrying a hand sanitizer when out and about, can keep you relatively safe.
2. Make your home allergy-proof
According to the Eurostat website (the official source of statistics covering the European Union) respiratory diseases are one of the most common causes of death across the European Union. We often blame high levels of air pollution in urban areas for this problem, and rightly so, but we must also consider the fact that most of our time is spent indoors.
There are plenty of allergens in our homes, such as pet dander, mold, dust particles and micro-organisms that cause irritation in our respiratory tracts. While external air pollution is the main source of indoor pollution, regularly cleaning our homes, ensuring proper ventilation, removing dust, eliminating mold and getting rid of damp spots can help reduce the negative effect of these triggers, and cut the number of trips to the hospital.
Preventative medical services
These days, a range of preventative healthcare services are offered, some of them as part of public state healthcare policies and some as part of insurance policies.
- Vaccines can significantly lower the risk of catching various illnesses that are prevalent in many parts of the world. Granted, this tip is not for everyone because some people are against the use of vaccines.
- Medical professionals can run a series of screening tests these days to catch the onset or risk of developing certain health conditions, such as cardiac diseases, bone degeneration conditions and cancer. The treatment for such diseases can be both lengthy and expensive. Fortunately, catching them at an early stage can improve the effectiveness of treatment, disrupt the spread of the disease and cut the cost as well as duration of treatment. Make sure you get regular check-ups and get any screening tests ordered by your doctor to help nip your illness in the bud.
5. Milk your insurance policy
Sometimes, we fail to understand the exact terms of our insurance policies which prevents us from using it effectively. I’ll illustrate this point with examples:
- Be organized: My insurance firm reimburses me for any visits I make to the doctor if I submit the medical bill within a month of the issue date. I have been guilty of misplacing a medical bill or two and also of missing the one month deadline. That money could have easily been saved. Oops!
- Be aware: My friend’s insurance firm recently broadened their coverage to include the reimbursement of multivitamin pills. He used to discard all pharmacy bills of such purchases and continued to do so well after the policy update.
- It doesn’t hurt to ask: One of my relatives underwent cataract eye surgery to change the lens in his right eye. The procedure would have replaced the lens with a ‘good enough’ quality lens, all covered by his insurance policy. However, when he asked about the various possible lens options, the HR department at his workplace offered the pay for the highest quality of lens, for both his eyes. This happened a few months before his retirement, after which point he would have had to foot the bill through his own pocket.
- Fight your case: A few years ago, a colleague wanted to have her insurance firm pay for visits to her gynecologist, who was off-panel. She pleaded her case on the basis of trusting this renowned doctor who had treated her family for years, and her poor experience with other gynaecologists on the panel. After a bit of back and forth, the insurance firm agreed to pay for her bills for a period of one year.
6. Buy ‘generic, non-branded’ medicines where applicable
Branded medicine may be more effective but it is also more expensive than generic, non-branded medicine. A doctor once told me that for longterm use of certain medicines, it is better to go for the cheaper alternative because they are simply milder, but if you have a serious infection that requires full frontal treatment, then do not compromise on the cost of your medicine. Of course, this rule applies if you have ensured that the generic medicines are not fake, which can be hazardous to your health.
So on your next visit, ask your doctor to prescribe a non-branded or a low-cost alternative to any expensive medicines you are currently using.
7. A healthy lifestyle – good diet, exercise!
Take care of your body and your body will take care of you.
This is probably the golden rule of life and doesn’t need much explanation so I’ll just list the main points. Each day:
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables – research shows that Mediterranean diets are good for the heart and overall health of individuals. Fruits and vegetables cost less than meat, which is a major bonus (I wonder why I didn’t mention this in my article about saving money on groceries!),
- Be active –exercise and stay fit!
So the gist of this article is that you can cut your medical expenses by staying healthy and can save lots of money by using insurance policies to your advantage.
While you cannot predict whether you will suffer from an ailment or not, you can at least have the comfort of knowing you can afford to get the best possible treatment needed by you and your family.
What other ways can you think of to limit your medical expenses?
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