How to Become a Better Healthcare Consumer

healthcare consumer

What is the difference between a patient and a healthcare consumer? Many consider the terms synonymous, but there are some distinct differences. Primarily, a patient receives care, but a healthcare consumer actively manages the healthcare they receive. Read on to learn more about becoming a better healthcare consumer.

Proactively Manage Your Health

Most of us know that the best way to keep healthcare costs down is to live a healthy lifestyle and see a healthcare provider before any conditions worsen. Yet only 7 in 10 consumers feel responsible for managing their health.

Become more proactive by taking a few small but meaningful steps. These include exercising more, watching your calorie intake, quitting smoking, abstaining from drugs not prescribed for you, and reducing alcohol intake.

Be sure to schedule annual checkups and preventative screenings, see the dentist twice a year, and get your vision checked at least every other year (if wearing glasses or contacts) annually. These all help you manage your health and become a better healthcare consumer.

Know Your Health Insurance Plan

While it may not be exciting reading, you need to get familiar with the details of your health insurance plans. There may be a couple of decisions you should make now, while you have time to think them through, rather than having to make them at the last minute.

  • Which expenses are covered? Which are not?
  • What are your expected out-of-pocket copay, deductible, and coinsurance costs?
  • Are your preferred healthcare providers included in your network? If not, will you switch providers, or would you instead rather pay more to continue seeing the providers you’re used to?
  • Are there wellness incentives that you can take advantage of?

Understanding your financial responsibility is critical to being a better healthcare consumer.

Recognize When to Seek Care

If you have a minor injury or are feeling a little sick, do you go to the doctor? The answer is probably no, as most of us take care of minor things at home unless they just don’t seem to be getting any better.

But when you have symptoms of a potentially serious illness or injury, I hope you don’t hesitate to obtain care quickly. Here’s a good resource for deciding when to see a doctor or seek emergency care.

Knowing when you should see a doctor or other care provider makes you a better healthcare consumer.

Use Tax-Advantaged CDH Accounts

With a tax-advantaged, consumer-directed healthcare (CDH) account, participants use funds expressly set aside to cover out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. CDH accounts include Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs), and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

Except for HRAs, which are funded solely by your employer, these accounts contain money deducted from your payroll before taxes were calculated. That saves the average person 30-40% in taxes on the amount set aside. You can use the funds to pay for a wide range of qualified healthcare expenses not covered by insurance.

You might be surprised by the expenses eligible for these accounts. In addition to most charges related to routine and emergency medical care, dental care, vision care, and prescription costs, you can also use the accounts for acupuncture services, smoking cessation programs, menstrual care supplies, over-the-counter medications, and much more. See IRS publication 502 for a complete list of qualified expenses.

Taking advantage of consumer-directed healthcare accounts is a great way to save money on your taxes while becoming a better healthcare consumer

Shop Around 

Your healthcare provider may recommend a procedure you don’t think you need. Or you may find that one provider charges a lot more for a particular treatment than another provider does. Like most things, it can pay to shop around to get second opinions or compare costs. To save money on healthcare:

  • Take care of healthcare needs promptly so they don’t get worse and more expensive to treat
  • Choose in-network doctors and facilities where possible
  • Ask about generic alternatives to name-brand prescriptions
  • Review your medical bills and Explanation of Benefits (EOBs) to make sure you aren’t being charged for something you didn’t receive (mistakes happen more often than you might think)

Comparing cost and value when making healthcare decisions is an intelligent move that also makes you a better healthcare consumer. Great job!