The impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, informally referred to as “Obamacare,” is likely to be felt by Americans in the near future through higher healthcare insurance premiums, increased difficulty in making doctor appointments, and decreased face-to-face consultations with their personal physicians. While the exorbitant annual increases in healthcare costs of past years could moderate – and possibly reverse – in the long-term as a result of the act, everyone should be prepared for higher healthcare expenses in the short-term.
Each American will be required to assume more financial responsibility for his or her health. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to moderate the higher costs while improving the health of yourself and your family. Most steps merely involve simple changes in lifestyle and everyday habits.
How to Protect Yourself and Prepare for Changes:
1. Lose Weight By Eating Right
Since the mid 1950s, American diets have changed dramatically. Some experts believe that the average diet is more than 50% “junk food”: food that has little nutritional value and is high in fat, sugar, and calories. These foods are highly visible, heavily advertised, psychologically addicting, and receive the bulk of the nation’s food dollars.
Combined with the sedentary lifestyle of most Americans, obesity, including childhood obesity, has exploded with all of its attendant medical costs. Health economist John Cawley calculates that health services related to obesity amount to $190 billion a year in additional medical spending, or 20.6% of U.S. healthcare expenditures. In fact, the costs of obesity now exceed the costs of smoking. Switching to a healthy diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the best forms of “health insurance.”
2. Make Exercise a Habit
As little as 30 minutes of exercise per day can decrease your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, and premature death. You can benefit from lower blood pressure, decreased body fat, lower cholesterol levels, increased flexibility, and lessened arthritis symptoms. Scientists have long proven that regular exercise relaxes and revitalizes humans, and makes us feel better about ourselves.
3. Stop Smoking
There are numerous health and financial benefits to quitting smoking. Smoking is a known health risk, and smokers generally use about 25% more healthcare services than nonsmokers. Life insurance premiums for a smoker are almost double the premiums for nonsmokers, based on higher mortality rates and higher incidents of emphysema and other smoking-related diseases.
4. Drink Alcohol in Moderation
In addition to numerous health problems ranging from anemia, depression, seizures, and cirrhosis, excessive drinkers are more likely to be involved in car crashes. According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, someone is injured every minute in an alcohol-related crash.
5. Purchase High-Deductible Health Insurance
The purpose of health insurance is to transfer the risk of catastrophic healthcare costs to the insurance company. Day-to-day health issues, however, are intended to be an individual’s financial responsibility, as the individual is best suited to determine the severity of a disease and the need to seek treatment. Your assumption of expenses for typical, non-serious medical incidents and the use of high-deductible insurance will cut your healthcare premiums substantially while still protecting you from the extraordinary costs of a critical illness or trauma.
6. Establish a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Savings Account (FSA)
Health savings accounts were created in 2003 to allow individuals to save money for potential healthcare costs in combination with a high deductible health insurance plan. Contributions are tax-deductible, and withdrawals are tax-free as long they’re used for qualified medical expenses.
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Flexible savings accounts are for employees covered by an employer-sponsored plan, and require that contributions be spent each year or they’ll be forfeited. However, the funds within the account can be used for a variety of qualified medical expenses, including dependent care. Note that you cannot contribute to both an HSA and FSA.
7. Make and Document End-of-Life Decisions
Medicare statistics calculate that one-quarter of Medicare expenditures are for the last year of life, undoubtedly reflecting aggressive care to extend life in those circumstances. Discuss the alternatives with your family, and do your best to make sure all family members accept your decision regarding do not resuscitate (DNR) instructions. Once documented, file the instructions with your regular physicians and attorney. The conversation about end-of-life decisions is also an important one to be held with older family members.
8. Maintain a Schedule of Regular Checkups
Many men who do not smoke and maintain a healthy lifestyle may only need a physical checkup every three years, not annually. Blood pressure should be checked every two years, cholesterol should be checked every five years, and a standard cancer exam is due every three years. Dental checkups should be completed every year, as an unhealthy mouth and tooth decay can lead to a myriad of problems when older. Your physician can help you develop an appropriate checkup schedule.
Whether you believe healthcare is a right or a personal responsibility, all of us would concur that good health is a gift that justifies our constant attention. Staying active, eating right, avoiding harmful habits, and preparing financially for an unexpected illness or accident makes sense for individuals and families alike. It is the greatest insurance for a happy, stress-free future – and it doesn’t cost a thing.
What other ways can you suggest to save money on healthcare costs, and reduce the need for medical attention?
Andrew Osterland has edited various financial websites at QuinStreet for a span of four years. Because of his talent and hard work, he was raised to the role of senior editorial manager of the company’s insurance sites and was a contributing writer at CNBC.com. He is also an entrepreneur and has been the editor manager of Insure.com. Full profile here.