8 Tips to Help 40-Somethings Manage Their Health Care Costs

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As we enter our 40s, our physical condition tends to start deteriorating -- at least a little -- no matter how well we take care of ourselves. You may find yourself suddenly needing reading glasses, for example, or taking medications to tame your high blood pressure.

These issues, and ones down the line, can end up costing us a lot of money, so it's worth putting a little time into thinking about how to secure good care for yourself while not spending more than you need to. You may end up saving money -- and perhaps even extending your life.

Here are eight tips to consider:

1. As you get older, you're likely to be using your health insurance plan more than before, so make sure it's the best one for you. Picking the option with the lowest annual premium might be OK when you're younger, but now you may want to pivot towards one that costs more up front, but costs less to take advantage of. Consider, for example, the services you use most and how often you use them, taking into account prescriptions, dental services, visits to specialists, mental health services, etc. Then look at each plan candidate and its premium, deductibles and fees. Map out how much you would end up spending overall under each plan; that will help you choose the best value.

2. Shop around for your prescriptions and tests, too. There may be less expensive alternatives to the medications you're prescribed, and you might find much lower costs simply by calling a few local pharmacies to see what they charge for your prescription. If you're going to have a pricey lab test or procedure, such as an MRI, you might also shop around. Ask your medical office for the CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) code for the test, and look it up at the American Medical Association's website, which can tell you how much Medicare reimburses for it and can also provide estimates of overall costs. Here's more info on how to research medical pricing. The folks at FAIR Health make the process relatively easy, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services offer information on physician fees, too.

3. If money is tight and you're looking at some considerable medical expenses, talk to your doctor (or dentist) about it. They may be able to keep your costs down. A dental procedure might be split into separate appointments over two years, so that you can also distribute the cost over two fiscal years and thereby get more of it covered by your insurance. Your health care provider might also be able to suggest less costly treatments, or even to lower fees for you. Don't be shy: Being frank might pay off.

4. Set up an HSA or FSA. Health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts are tax-sheltered accounts, permitting you to sock away money on a pre-tax basis to spend on certain qualified kinds of expenses, such as medical costs.

5. Think about long-term-care health insurance. It might sound crazy to someone who's just 40-something, but its not too early to consider. Such policies are designed to pay for home-care services or nursing home expenses when needed. Sure, you aren't likely to need this coverage for several decades, but eventually, the odds are good that you will.

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(Close to 7 in 10 Americans will need long-term care at some point after they turn 65.) And when you do, it can be extremely expensive. In fact, it's getting so expensive that many older folks are advised not to buy it, and to just try to put money aside for that purpose instead. But since the coverage is much cheaper if you buy it when you're young, it's worth considering whether it makes sense for you, now or later. For example, per a Genworth Financial (GNW) calculator, a policy paying $100 per day for three years sold to a 49-year-old in Colorado would cost around $950 annually, versus $2,990 for a 70-year-old.

6. Make the most of wellness programs available at your workplace. They're often win-win propositions, helping employers lower health care costs while helping workers get healthier and perhaps even collect some cash incentives or get big discounts on their health insurance costs. According to the National Business Group on Health, more than 40 percent of large companies offer workers incentives to participate in wellness programs, with those incentives averaging nearly $400.

7. Learn what to expect under Obamacare. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has a lot to offer most Americans. For example, those who work for employers that don't offer health insurance will be able to buy insurance for themselves much more easily and affordably, and those with limited means may also qualify for subsidies. People with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, heart issues, or high blood pressure should rejoice that insurers are no longer be able to use that information to raise their premiums or deny them coverage.

8. Stay as healthy as possible. While you can't completely control your health, there's still a lot you can do. For example, exercise, eat healthful foods, get regular checkups and preventive care, and avoid bad habits such as smoking. Don't neglect important screenings. If there are diseases or conditions in your family history such as cancer or hear disease, be sure you and your doctor keep those in mind. Taking care of yourself like this can set you up for a longer life, and can save you a lot in health care costs along the way, 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.

Longtime Motley Fool contributor Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, owns no shares of any company mentioned in this article.

Originally published