Every day there seems to be another news story about the rising costs of healthcare. With the government in a bit of a whirlwind at the moment, it’s hard to know what will happen next. Healthcare is actually one of the nation’s largest industries. In fact, it accounts for almost 20% of gross domestic product in the United States.

You don’t need an economics background to understand how significant that statistic is. In the meantime, modern medicine means Baby Boomers and aging populations are living longer than ever. While this is great news for those entering their golden years, it also presents challenges to those who are in need of medical coverage for longer than ever before.

rising costs of healthcare

What has caused this massive rise in healthcare costs? First, the U.S. is one of the few first-world countries that continue to rely on company-sponsored private insurance. While it’s true we have programs like Medicare and Medicaid, even these encourage healthcare providers to charge more for services. In the United States, we pay 60% more for the same services as they do in European countries.

What’s the second cause of rising costs? It’s a chronic illness. Diabetes and heart disease, for example, are at an all-time high. A startling percentage of Americans are struggling with a chronic illness, and these costs alone are responsible for over one-fourth of all health care costs.

Unfortunately, there is no easy fix for the rising costs. However, that doesn’t mean we need to accept these prices for what they are. There are emerging alternatives to traditional healthcare as well as lifestyle changes that can keep our health (and wallets) healthy as we age. Ultimately, we need to all push for policy changes that protect our health, but until that day comes we can take steps towards a healthier tomorrow.

Make a lifestyle change

Of course, the first way to fight rising costs is also the most obvious. If you live a healthier lifestyle, you’ll need less medical treatment. If your life is full of unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking, and failing to exercise, you’re at a much greater risk of developing a chronic disease.

As we highlighted before, these diseases aren’t affordable. Build healthy habits that will strengthen your body. Eat less processed foods, create an exercise plan you can stick to, and get enough sleep. These might sound small at first, but they’ll snowball into a new lifestyle that changes your entire life.

Along with that healthy lifestyle, shift comes regular office checkups. Medical treatment is expensive if you fail to catch diseases or problems early. While many people struggle with a fear of the doctor, it’s worth going regularly for routine checks and exams. It’s much more affordable to catch a problem in its early stages than to catch it too late.

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See in-network providers

As listed above, preventative care is a must. It’s also a must to find an insurance plan you can afford. This might seem contradictory today now that “affordable” and “insurance” can hardly be used in the same sentence, but it’s worth the search. If you’re still employed, choosing an employer plan is usually the way to go.

Insurance in some form or another is better than no insurance, and it will help cover any treatment you do end up needing. Learn more here about the best insurance options from a local health insurance agent. Before choosing your insurance provider, check that your primary doctor is included in-network. It’s never worth paying more for the same service.

Modern healthcare options

Visiting your doctor regularly for routine checkups is essential, but it’s not the only way to interact with healthcare professionals. Today, telemedicine is real and revolutionary. You can talk to a doctor or other specialist on your smartphone or computer thanks to apps like MD Live, LiveHealth, and Amwell.

While it might seem weird to talk to your doctor on the phone or over video, this is the way of the future. Not only can you receive treatment for smaller ailments like the common cold, infections, and more, but it’s significantly less expensive than going to an Urgent Care or even your primary care doctor. Even better, many of these apps and platforms accept insurance plans which can help reduce the cost.

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Negotiate your rate

Did you know you could actually negotiate your healthcare bill? That’s right, you don’t have to accept the first number you’re told you need to pay. There is actually a bit more wiggle room in those doctor or hospital fees than you might realize.

First, always act in advance. Asking for a discount at the time of service is always the best option to get the best rate. Many hospitals or medical providers offer what’s known as a cash discount, meaning you’ll pay less if you’re willing to pay at the time of service. Being upfront with what you can afford with your medical provider will almost always work in your favor. Many physicians are willing to work with you, whether that means offering a payment plan or offering a lower-cost treatment option.

After you’ve received the bill, you still have options to change how much you owe. Most importantly, get in the habit of looking for billing errors. These are more common than you’d think, and they can result in big savings if you catch them. For instance, many times medical codes are mismatched. Next, if you’ve confirmed the bill is correct, don’t be afraid to contact your medical provider to talk about payment terms. Sometimes they have payment plans to discounts available for those who need help.

When in doubt, ask. Most providers understand that medical costs are high. They’re willing to work with people in order to get some form of payment. Finally, if all else fails, reach out to your local payment advocate foundation which can connect you with local charities designed for medical treatment. No matter your situation, you have options.

Fighting for a change

Think about important things like your long-term health goals, history, and financial wellness. How do your current habits and lifestyle fit into these goals? Do you have a health insurance plan you can trust and afford? Are you at risk for chronic illnesses?

While it’s true the health insurance landscape is complicated, it’s not impossible. Your health is the most important thing you have. Let’s all fight together for better policies that protect everyone. You need to plan for the future, and that plan should start today. The healthcare practices in the United States aren’t likely to change overnight, so let’s work together to make the world a safer, healthier place.

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