Medical bills are the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in America. Luckily, there’s one foolproof way to make sure your health care costs are essentially zero: Stay perfectly healthy! Never get sick, never need to see a doctor and avoid any situation that could land you in an ambulance.
OK, there might be a reason doctors aren’t peddling this advice. Perfect health is an unattainable goal, and you can’t predict exactly when you’re going to sprain an ankle, get the flu or have a chronic illness flare-up. But taking full advantage of free health insurance perks like immunizations, screenings and other services can make managing your health a lot easier — so when you do get sick or injured, you’ll be able to handle health concerns early on and recover more quickly.
To give yourself the best chance of staying healthy and avoiding a financial headache, make sure to maximize all of the health insurance perks you’re entitled to in your health plan. Here are five valuable resources you shouldn’t overlook.
Primary Care Visits
Seeing your primary care doctor for regular checkups can help you catch serious diseases or chronic conditions before symptoms appear, giving you a chance to slow their progression and treat issues before they get worse. At your appointments, don’t be afraid to ask any questions you may have about your health. With regular checkups and preventive measures, you can stop health problems in their tracks and avoid needing more expensive medical care down the road, keeping health care costs down in the long-term.
In addition to free screenings for things like high blood pressure and obesity, you may also be able to get screenings for other serious conditions you might be at risk for, including cholesterol, breast and cervical cancer, diabetes and HIV.
While the screenings themselves may be free, you may still be charged a copay for your visit. Check your insurance policy to see what your copays are and make sure the lab doing your testing is in your in your network to help keep your costs as low as possible.
If you stay within your health care plan’s provider network, you can also access free immunizations for hepatitis A and B, shingles and — of course — the flu, among other illnesses. If you’re squeamish around needles, give yourself a pep talk or grab a friend to come with you, because it’s better to feel a small pinch on your arm now than a painful financial pinch in your wallet later.
Not only does regular physical activity improve your overall health, but it can also reduce your risk of getting chronic diseases, which are responsible for 7 of every 10 American deaths each year and account for 75 percent of the nation’s health spending.
Of course, fitness classes and gym memberships come at their own price, but your insurance plan might offer access to free or discounted classes and memberships. Also keep in mind that your exercise routine doesn’t have to happen in a gym or studio. Ask your doctor for exercises you can do at home for free.
When you picture counseling and therapy, you probably envision lying on a couch and talking about your mother. In reality, counseling services go so much further — working with a counselor can, among other things, help you sleep better, manage mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, address eating disorders and quit smoking. Admittedly, some counseling can be expensive, so check your insurance plan to see where you can access free or affordable counseling services.
At the end of the day, your health and your wealth will always be intertwined. Sometimes the decision between the kale salad and the hamburger, or between getting the prescription and skipping it, comes down to the dollar signs involved. Aim to strike a balance between financial and physical well-being — being as healthy as possible without going broke. Preventive health services make finding this balance much more attainable, so save yourself some money and search out the free care options your health plan offers.