Ask a friends, co-workers or relatives what their largest financial worry is related to the upcoming U.S. Presidential election, and chances are most will say "health care."
That's according to a new report out from GoBankingRates. "Americans are most worried about health care costs affecting the U.S. economy over other financial hot topics such as tax increases and income inequality," GOBankingRates.com says.
Here's how consumers rate their financial concerns
* Health care costs - 31% say it's their chief financial concern
* Social Security benefits - 16%
* Income inequality - 15%
* Tax increases - 13%
* Higher education costs - 13%
* Military spending - 11%
"Our study found that 'health care costs' was chosen as most significant twice as much as the other five financial burdens," said Kristen Bonner, research lead for the GOBankingRates Financial Burdens Survey. "Even more alarming, every age group, with the exception of people under 24 years old and people over 65, chose health care costs as most significant more than any other factor."
That mirrors the results of a separate study from CareCredit, a health care credit card company. Among other things, the study shows 52.6% of survey respondents have delayed out-of-pocket health or dental treatment because of cost. Additionally, if they had to undergo an elective health care treatment today that costs $1,000 out-of-pocket, 44.7% would not be able to afford it.
Medical industry insiders say the high costs of health care have really gotten out of hand.
"Health care costs are crippling the American family," says Richard Menger, a physician and a Master in Public Administration candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. "Health care costs are the primary reason real wages have not increased for the average American worker. Also, employers are offering plans with fewer benefits and more out of pocket expenses. Consequently, companies are indirectly passing increased healthcare costs on to employees."
To cut high personal health care costs, Menger advises thoroughly reviewing your health care plan. "Knowing the benefit options, understanding the in-network provider structure, and becoming an active consumer can protect against losses," he says.
More specifically, there are big, money-saving steps you can take to slash your health care costs.
For example, only visit an emergency room when absolutely necessary, says Jay Woody, co-founder and chief medical officer at Legacy ER & Urgent Care, a hybrid medical clinic in Frisco, Tx. "Emergency rooms are notoriously expensive," Woody explains. "There are all sorts of fees associated with visiting an emergency room. For every 1,000 people with insurance, there are 203 emergency room visits. Of those, 44% to 65% of those cases treated in an emergency room are actually urgent care treatable and don't require the use of an emergency room."
However, if a patient visits an ER for those urgent care cases, he will still be charged the ER prices, Woody says. "The cost of an urgent care case treated in an emergency room is approximately $2,039.00, while the same case treated in an urgent care facility would be approximately $226.00 -- a $1,813.00 difference."
Woody also urges consumers not to focus solely on health care deductibles or premiums. "Looking for a low deductible or premium is not always best," he says. "It's important to make sure the health care plan covers most, if not all, of the additional costs associated with an emergency. For instance, if a plan covers 70% of a procedure but leaves 30% to pay, it will end up costing a couple thousand of dollars on top of a hospital bill."
Also, cut costs by not using providers outside of your health care network. "Patients should select doctors, hospitals or health care facilities that are within their health insurance company's network because the cost of services is usually lower," Woody explains. "Patients will typically pay more for services from out-of-network providers, and some plans might not cover services from out-of-network providers. It's important for patients to check their plan's benefits to make the most informed decision about their care."
Lastly, use a preferred pharmacy when buying prescription drugs, and ask your doctor to use generic version of prescriptions when possible, Woody says. That will help cut high health care costs further.
Dealing with rising health care costs is a big issue as Americans get set to head to the polls in November. But the truth is, you can take the matter into your own hands and take aggressive steps to slash your health care burden by being a smart health care consumer.
And you can do that right now.