Safely Cut Cost Of Elec­tive Med­i­cal Ex­penses

The Oakdale Leader - - PERSPECTIVE - Nathaniel Sillin Nathaniel Sillin di­rects Visa’s fi­nan­cial ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams. To fol­low Prac­ti­cal Money Skills on Twit­ter: www.twit­­ti­calMoney.

Whether it’s a mat­ter of com­fort, ap­pear­ance or safety, there are many med­i­cal pro­ce­dures that you may want or need, but your health in­sur­ance won’t cover.

Laser eye surgery may fall into the want cat­e­gory for most peo­ple and it can be a hefty in­vest­ment with each eye cost­ing sev­eral thou­sand dol­lars. For those want­ing to start a fam­ily, in­fer­til­ity treat­ments, which can cost over $10,000, may be closer to a need. Yet most states don’t re­quire health in­sur­ance to cover treat­ments.

Con­sid­er­ing the last­ing im­pact that th­ese and other pro­ce­dures can have on your life, you may not want to seek out the least ex­pen­sive op­tion. How­ever, that doesn’t mean you should forgo at­tempts to save al­to­gether. From tax-ad­van­taged ac­counts to com­par­i­son shop­ping doc­tors, there are many ap­proaches to safely cut­ting costs.

Take a med­i­cal ex­pense tax de­duc­tion. If you item­ize your tax de­duc­tions, you can get a de­duc­tion for your qual­i­fied med­i­cal ex­penses that ex­ceed 10 per­cent of your ad­justed gross in­come. Laser eye surgery and some fer­til­ity en­hance­ment treat­ments may qual­ify. How­ever, cos­metic surgery doesn’t un­less it’s re­lated to a con­gen­i­tal ab­nor­mal­ity, dis­fig­ur­ing disease or an in­jury re­sult­ing from trauma or an accident.

Use an em­ployer-spon­sored flex­i­ble spend­ing ac­count (FSA). Some em­ploy­ers of­fer FSAs as an em­ployee ben­e­fit. You can make tax-de­ductible con­tri­bu­tions to the ac­count each year and with­draw the money tax-free to pay for qual­i­fied med­i­cal ex­penses, in­clud­ing health in­sur­ance de­ductibles and co­pay­ments. How­ever, this ap­proach could re­quire plan­ning as you may for­feit re­main­ing FSA money at the end of each year.

En­roll in health in­sur­ance with a health sav­ings ac­count (HSA). An HSA ac­count is sim­i­lar to an FSA in that you can con­trib­ute pre-tax money and with­draw funds to pay for el­i­gi­ble med­i­cal ex­penses taxfree. HSAs don’t have the use-it-or-lose-it re­quire­ment, but to qual­ify for an HSA ac­count, you need to en­roll in a High De­ductible Health Plan (HDHP) and can’t be el­i­gi­ble for Medi­care.

Ask your health in­sur­ance com­pany about dis­counts. Even when a health in­sur­ance provider doesn’t cover a pro­ce­dure, mem­bers may still be able to save money by go­ing through their in­sur­ance.

For ex­am­ple, health in­sur­ance gen­er­ally won’t cover the cost of Laser eye surgery, but your provider may of­fer a five to 15 per­cent dis­count if you get the surgery at part­ner eye care cen­ters.

Health in­sur­ance re­quire­ments can also vary from one state to an­other, and you should dou­ble-check your ben­e­fits be­fore as­sum­ing some­thing isn’t cov­ered. In­fer­til­ity treat­ment is one of th­ese gray ar­eas, as some states re­quire health in­sur­ance plans to pro­vide cov­er­age while oth­ers do not.

Com­pare costs from dif­fer­ent providers. Vary­ing med­i­cal costs some­times make head­lines when pa­tients find out that a $3,000 med­i­cal pro­ce­dure at a hos­pi­tal could cost sev­eral hun­dred at a nearby clinic. If it’s not an emer­gency, there are web­sites that you can use to com­par­i­son shop nearby med­i­cal cen­ters and get es­ti­mated prices.

Bot­tom line: Although you may not be able to con­vince your health in­sur­ance com­pany to cover what it con­sid­ers an elec­tive pro­ce­dure; you can turn to other meth­ods to save money. As with other large ex­penses, you can take a dual big – and lit­tle – pic­ture ap­proach by look­ing for tax breaks that lower your ef­fec­tive cost and sav­ings op­por­tu­ni­ties that can re­duce a pro­ce­dure’s price.

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