As we come out of the winter months and the flu season, many of us have depleted our medical savings. While it’s too late to do anything about this year’s savings, there are things consumers could and should be doing to avoid this happening again next year.
Consumers need to break the medical savings abuse cycle
As soon as consumers realise that their medical savings is depleted before the end of the year, what usually happens is that they delay seeking the medical attention they require between the time that their medical savings runs out and 1 January of the following year.
They may for example, be tempted to leave that cavity in their tooth for a while and just ‘eat on the other side’ or put off their check-up with the gynae for a month or two. Maybe they even decide to forgo those monthly vitamins that they were paying for out of their medical savings. In doing so, by the time the new year presents itself, they find themselves with a ‘backlog’ of medical needs, some which by this stage require more medical care than if they had simply dealt with them when they occurred. The end result is that by February many have eaten into a large percentage of their annual medical savings allowance.
Ideally, when January comes around and medical schemes ‘reset’ their medical savings to its full amount for the new year, consumers should be in a position where they have no backlogged medical procedures to rush to. This sounds great, and makes a lot of sense, but how exactly can they pull this off?
Health first! Consumers should cut back on other expenses to proiritise their health between now and January
The goal is to remain healthy for the remainder of the year. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Instead of giving up those vitamins, consumers should rather give up on eating out? Looking after health needs in the short-term will help them to reduce their medical costs in the first quarter of next year and will help their medical savings to last longer. As part of a stay healthy plan, consumers should also remember to make use of their medical schemes preventative screening benefits and should focus on a healthy lifestyle which includes exercise, dieting and cutting back on bad habits like smoking and drinking. It is better for them to set aside that money as a medical saving for themselves while they are in a self-payment gap.
Consumers can reduce their medical costs by being smart
If consumers find themselves getting sick while in a self-payment gap, then they should consider the following ways to save on medical expenses during this period:
- Not everything requires a doctor’s visit. In many cases, pharmacists are skilled enough to provide sound medical advice on problems such as rashes, colds or other minor everyday illnesses. Consumers should rather get an opinion from their pharmacist first before running up unnecessary doctors’ bills.
- When consumers need over-the-counter medications such as headache tablets, vitamins, antacids or flu meds, they should first try purchase them from a supermarket rather than a pharmacy. This could save them heaps of money, as supermarkets buy in bulk and are able to pass on savings to their customers.
- If consumers do have to spend money on medication, they should ask their doctor to prescribe a generic form of the medication needed. They should also then double check with their pharmacist that they are given the cheapest generic alternative available. Unless specifically ruled out by their doctor, they should opt for a generic as they are often a lot cheaper and do the same thing as the original brand name medications. Some generics are even manufactured by the same original brand on the same assembly line, and only the packaging is different.
- Consumers can also avoid using multiple medicines when as an alternative, they can purchase one that takes care of all their symptoms. For example, why get one type of medicine for a runny nose, another type for a sore throat and a third type for a fever. If they ask their pharmacist, it very likely that they could get an ‘all-in-one’ medicine at half the price that will take care of all their symptoms.
- Consumers that find themselves on regular medication, should check if their condition is listed as a chronic condition with their medical scheme. The same should be done if they receive a new diagnosis that requires ongoing medication. There are 27 chronic illnesses that all medical schemes must cover. While medical schemes don’t have to pay for the diagnosis of the condition (while the consumer is in a payment gap), as soon as you have a diagnosis, the medication could be covered by the consumers chronic medication benefits. Many people don’t realise that they need to submit their prescriptions to their medical schemes in order to claim from their chronic medication benefits and end up paying for these medications out of their own pockets. Some of the more well-known chronic conditions include asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis and bipolar mood disorder. Some medical aids cover additional chronic conditions such as attention deficit disorder, depression, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and more, depending which medical scheme option the consumer belongs to.
- Consumers should make use of their rewards programmes. There are a number of retailers that offer cash back, two-for-one or three-for-two specials on vitamins and other health products. Where possible, consumers should use these benefits to subsidise their monthly health expenses.
Plan better for the new year
Assuming consumers follow all the advice above and arrive in the new year with no backlogged medical needs, they are in a great position to plan and budget so that they don’t find themselves in this sticky situation again. While applying the same tactics and skills they have already learned, they should also sit down with their financial advisor and make sure that they understand exactly how their scheme works and how much their medical savings for the year is and where they need to fund any co-payments. Once they have a better understanding, they should draw up a medical savings budget which includes all the medicines and vitamins they may require for the year and that they purchase on a regular basis. Once they have a total spend amount, consumers should then assess if they have anything left over for those unforeseen medical expenses. If they find there is little, or no savings left or that they will run out of medical savings before the year is up, they should seriously consider which items they could pay cash for in order to minimise their financial risk should they fall ill unexpectedly. Remembering that anything they don’t spend from their medical savings will carry over to the next year, putting them into an even better situation than before.