How to Save Money on Health Insurance

Choosing the right plan, negotiating bills and making use of in-network urgent care clinics are some of the ways to cut your healthcare costs.

Written by Linda Childers / September 27, 2022

Quick Bites

  • Health insurance premiums, copays and other costs can be costly, but there are ways to reduce your expenditures.
  • Saving on prescription medications has become easier with pharmacy discount programs and online pharmacies.
  • Health insurance marketplaces offer websites where consumers can compare health plans and find health coverage that fits their needs and budget.

If you’ve found yourself worried about the rising cost of healthcare, you’re not alone. Health insurance premiums, deductibles and copays have steadily increased over the past decade, making hospital visits and medications pricier even for those with employer-sponsored health insurance.

In 2021, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reported that average annual health premiums were over $22,000 for families and $7,700 for individuals, marking a 4% increase from 2020. KFF says the average premium for family health insurance coverage has increased 22% over the last five years and 47% over the last ten years.[1]

In addition, KFF reports that nearly half (46%) of insured adults report difficulty affording their out-of-pocket healthcare costs and one in four (27%) report difficulty affording their insurance deductible.

Unfortunately, healthcare prices are expected to continue rising. A recent survey, conducted by Mercer’s National Survey of Employer Sponsored Health Plans, found medical plan costs per employee are expected to rise 5.6% on average in 2023.[2]

While paying for healthcare insurance can be costly, those who don’t have health coverage often pay a steeper price. According to the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the average cost of a 3-day hospital stay is approximately $30,000 and fixing a broken leg can cost up to $7,500.[3]

Fortunately, there are ways to cut back on your healthcare costs without giving up your insurance coverage or declaring bankruptcy. Read on to learn ways to be a savvy health care consumer.

Inside this article

  1. Compare different health plans
  2. Look beyond monthly premiums
  3. Stay in network, negotiate bills
  4. Avoid unnecessary ER visits

Compare different health plans

The cost of health insurance coverage varies and is based on various factors, including:

  • Your age

  • Where you live

  • Whether you use tobacco

  • Your annual income

  • Your healthcare use

  • The number of people covered in your plan

Since rates vary widely, experts recommend shopping around and comparing pricing plans from different insurance companies.

Health insurance marketplaces including Healthcare.gov, eHealth.com and TheZebra.com, among others, all offer websites where consumers can compare health insurance plans and pricing.

Natasha Cantrell, a director for eHealth, says marketplaces can help people save money by allowing them to compare plans from over 200 insurance companies on one site.

“Consumers can see how plans stack up in terms of premiums, deductibles and copays,” says Cantrell.

Don’t focus solely on monthly premiums

While it’s easy to think you’re saving money if your monthly health insurance premiums are low, that isn’t always the case.

“The most common mistake people make when comparing health insurance plans is to focus too much on monthly premiums and overlook the out-of-pocket costs that come into play when you receive medical care,” says Cantrell. “Cheap plans aren’t always the most affordable in the long run.”

Cantrell says health insurance plans with lower monthly premiums tend to come with higher annual deductibles, copays or coinsurance.

“These plans might be a good fit for people who are younger, healthier, who don’t use prescription drugs or who rarely visit the doctor,” says Cantrell. “Yet even then, it’s important to ensure you can afford the deductible or out-of-pocket maximum in an emergency.”

Should You Get a High-Deductible Health Plan?

Should You Get a High-Deductible Health Plan?

It really depends on what your typical medical expenses are like, but having a high-deductible plan can be a good option for some.

Find out more

By contrast, Cantrell says many people save money by going with a higher-premium plan that has lower out of pocket costs.

“If you have a chronic medical condition, use prescription drugs on a regular basis or see the doctor frequently, the savings you can realize with a lower deductible may outweigh the higher monthly premiums,” she says.

Stay in network and negotiate bills

To keep your costs in check it’s important to stay in your health insurance company’s provider network. If you are treated by a medical provider that doesn’t have a negotiated fee agreement with your health insurer provider, you might end up paying for the care out-of-pocket.

Cantrell says that while coverage levels can vary among different plans, some plans will not provide any meaningful coverage outside of your provider network, at least for non-emergency care.

“If there’s a doctor or hospital or pharmacy in your area that you want to continue seeing, make sure they are in the provider network for any new health insurance plan you’re considering,” she says.

If you have out-of-pocket costs for a hospital or doctor’s visit that you think are excessive, Paul Fronstin, director of the Health Research and Education program at the Employee Benefits Research Institute in Washington, D.C., says it might be worthwhile to try and negotiate your bill.

“Start by researching the average cost in your state of the medical procedure you received,” Fronstin says. The website healthcarebluebook.com can help with this. “Then ask your hospital or physician’s billing department to see if the cost can be reduced. If not, you can see if it’s possible to do a payment plan or ask if you might qualify for any financial healthcare assistance programs.”

Avoid unnecessary emergency room visits

When your child is showing signs of an ear infection on the weekend, or you hurt your ankle while walking your dog in the evening, a trip to the emergency room may seem like the best course of action. After all, your doctor’s office is closed, and you need medical care.

Yet, Cantrell notes that in most cases you will save money by visiting an urgent care clinic that’s in your provider network, rather than visiting the emergency room. In addition to paying significantly less at an urgent care clinic, you can drastically reduce your time spent receiving treatment.

“I’d recommend that you familiarize yourself with the urgent care clinics and hospital emergency rooms that are in-network, before the time comes when you need them,” she says.

Reserve emergency room visits for chest pain, weakness or numbness on one side of your body, slurred speech and other serious symptoms.

If you don’t have an urgent care clinic in your insurance network, even paying out-of-pocket for an urgent care clinic visit can save you money.

MinuteClinics, a chain of urgent care facilities operated by CVS Pharmacy, says a visit to the emergency room can cost $1,014 and up, while the same services provided at MinuteClinic cost approximately $22-$261. [4]In addition, many urgent care clinics accept health insurance, which can lower the cost of your visit.

8 Ways to Save on Prescription Drugs

8 Ways to Save on Prescription Drugs

It seems like there’s no rhyme or reason to how much a drug costs. But there are ways to save no matter what medications you need.

Find out more
Article Sources
  1. Montero, Kearney, Hamel and Brodie, “Americans Challenges with Healthcare Costs,” Kaiser Family Foundation, July 14, 2022, https://www.kff.org/health-costs/issue-brief/americans-challenges-with-health-care-costs/.
  2. “Health benefit cost growth will accelerate to 5.6% in 2023, Mercer Survey Finds,” Mercer, Aug. 11, 2022, https://www.mercer.us/newsroom/health-benefit-cost-growth-will-accelerate-in-2023.html.
  3. “Protection from High Medical Costs,” U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, https://www.healthcare.gov/why-coverage-is-important/protection-from-high-medical-costs/.
  4. “How Much Does the ER Cost Compared to MinuteClinic?” CVS, https://www.cvs.com/minuteclinic/why-choose-us/emergency-room-cost.

About the Author

Photo of Linda Childers

Linda Childers

Linda’s articles on healthcare costs and Medicare have appeared in Forbes and MedicareGuide. She has also written on healthcare topics for Arthritis Today, California Health Report, Allure, Health Monitor, US News and World Report, O, The Washington Post and many corporate blogs.

Full bio

Related Content