5 Tips to Help 20-Somethings Manage Health Care Costs

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When you're young, a lot of things seem relatively far-off and not worth thinking about now -- things such as managing health care costs, for instance.

But while you're still in your 20s it's the ideal time to consider your future health care needs so you're financially ready to tackle health issues when they arise. Health care needs in retirement can be considerable. Understand that while you might hope that your employer will give you some healthcare coverage in retirement, that's increasingly hard to come by and many folks who've been promised coverage have had it reduced or outright canceled.

And remember, too, that youth doesn't guarantee good health and low health costs. A University of Southern California study notes that cancer, heart disease, and mental disorders are "among the top five causes of mortality in young adults." Accidents, too, as well as drug or alcohol use, can lead to health care need.

Here are a few tips to consider:

  1. Go with a high deductible. When you sign up for health insurance, if you're in good health as most young folks are, consider opting for a plan with a high deductible, if possible. That's a good way to lower your costs.

  2. Talk to your doctor about less-pricey prescriptions. Thus, when you're prescribed any medication, ask about less expensive alternatives. There may be a much cheaper generic version of the same drug, or a different (but also effective) drug treating the same condition that's less costly. Shop around with pharmacies, too, as costs can vary widely between them.

  3. Keep tabs on what you're being charged. Read your bills carefully, as there's a not-insignificant chance that you're being overcharged. According Medical Billing Advocates of America, as many as 80 percent of medical services bills contain errors. Make sure the bills you get are itemized and reflect services you actually received. An incorrect code on a bill could lead to an incorrect charge and perhaps one rejected by your insurer. The bill might even be sent to the wrong insurer! The more you know about your coverage and your care, the more money you might save. Online, you may be able to look up estimated costs for various services at particular hospitals, or for particular services.

  4. Learn what to expect under "Obamacare." President Obama's signature Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," has a lot to offer most Americans, including young and healthy ones. For starters, those up to age 26 will be able to remain covered by parental health insurance plans. This has already benefited 3.4 million people between the age of 19 and 25. Many young folks (and older ones) work for employers who don't offer health insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, you'll be able to buy insurance for yourself, and you may also qualify for subsidies to help you afford it, if necessary. If you're unlucky enough to have some pre-existing condition (such as diabetes or high blood pressure), insurers won't be able to use that to raise premiums on your or, worse, deny you coverage.

  5. Get and stay healthy. Your health isn't entirely under your control, but much of it is. If you get fit, get regular checkups and preventative care, and develop good habits such as exercising and not smoking, you can set yourself up for a longer life, and one that can cost you less over time, too.

Don't take your health for granted, and don't assume that you needn't plan for your health needs if you're still young and healthy. You can save a lot of money, headaches, and even heartaches by managing your health care well.