When it comes to health care, being a woman can be costly.
A recent study by the National Women’s Law Center found that “women pay $1 billion more each year in individual health insurance costs even though they tend to take better care of their health than men.”
This difference in costs is a common insurance policy known as gender rating, and until the Affordable Care Act goes into effect in 2014, it is completely legal in many states. Basically, gender rating means that an individual’s gender determines how much it will cost him or her to pay for health insurance.
Added to this insurance disparity is the troubling finding by the Kaiser Family Foundation that “over one-quarter of women say they delay or just don’t get medical care they think they need because they cannot afford it.”
Clearly the cost of health care can be an obstacle for women who feel they cannot afford to maintain their health. And it only takes a single health crisis to derail anyone’s finances.
However, there are ways for women to reduce the cost of health care. Here are some tips and strategies for keeping you and your family healthy without destroying your budget:
1. Remember that health care costs should be front-loaded. One of the reasons why health care is such an issue for lower-income women and families in particular is because preventive care seems unnecessary when the choice is between groceries and a mammogram. However, spending money on preventive care now can help to defray potential costs in the future. Budgeting for preventive care is an important part of financial planning, as it protects your future assets from any potential health crisis.
2. Seek out free and reduced cost care. Even if your insurance plan does not cover preventive care — or you are currently uninsured or under-insured — you can still often find clinics and doctors who offer preventive care for free or on a sliding pay scale. For example, the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program offers breast and cervical cancer screenings to low-income, uninsured, and under-insured women.
Similarly, you can also find out if there are alternate facilities where you can still be seen by your in-network doctor. Many doctors often work at outpatient centers as well as within hospitals, where all their fees are reduced just because care is provided outside a hospital environment. Being willing to shop around among the facilities where you doctor works could save you a great deal of money.
3. Sign up for a flexible spending account. A great way to save money for out-of-pocket medical expenses (and child and dependent care, as well) is through a flexible spending account. These accounts allow you to put aside money without having to pay income or Social Security taxes on the funds.
The downside to FSAs is that you must use it within a calendar year — or lose whatever money is left in the account. If you have a decent idea of what you will spend throughout the year on medical expenses, signing up for an FSA will allow you to have the money taken from your paycheck before taxes, which makes it much easier to make sure that you have money set aside for your healthcare needs.
4. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. This suggestion can be a difficult one to follow. We all know that we should eat right, exercise, quit smoking, limit alcohol intake, etc. But just as paying for preventive care now can seem unnecessary compared to paying for groceries, it can be very tough to let go of unhealthy habits while you are generally healthy.
Ultimately, however, taking good care of yourself is your best defense against rising health care costs. We may all know stories of pack-a-day smokers who live to age 100 and marathon runners who die of a heart attack at age 45, but the statistics show that making healthy decisions is going to save you money, pain, and heartache in the long run.
The Bottom Line
The Kaiser Family Foundation describes women as “the health care leaders for their families.” Finding methods to make health care affordable is not just important for women individually, but also for their families, and for society as a whole.
How have you dealt with healthcare expenses? Is the high cost draining your budget?