A new season brings new insurance decisions, new sports teams—and newly sprained ankles. Keep costs under control with these tips from experts.

By Nicole Sforza
Updated July 18, 2017
Stethoscope and money
Credit: Istockphoto/Getty Images

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Stethoscope and money
Credit: Istockphoto/Getty Images

1 Seek Out a Screening.

If your child’s school requires a sports physical (this may start around seventh grade), you might be able to bypass a trip to the pediatrician. Some schools offer physicals in the gym that are performed by medical professionals.

2 Tap Urgent Care.

“This is a great alternative to expensive emergency room visits, and you’ll often save time,” says Carena Lowenthal, a registered dietitian and wellness coach in Rye Brook, New York. Urgent care visits are typically much less expensive than ER visits if insurance doesn’t cover the cost. A visit for allergies runs about $200 at an urgent care center and about $700 at the ER, according to Medical Choice Network. Hit the hospital for life-threatening symptoms, like severe chest pain, or a head injury. But for rashes, sprains, flu, and even broken fingers and toes, urgent care is clutch.

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3 Search for Perks.

“Many insurance companies offer members sessions with a wellness coach, financial adviser, therapist, and other experts,” says Lowenthal. If you’re strapped for time, consider telenutrition consults, which allow you to chat via phone or the Internet. Check your plan to see if massage is covered, too.

4 Mind Your Meds.

Shop around. “Costs can vary greatly from mom-and-pop pharmacies to stores like Costco or Target,” says Lowenthal. Try the GoodRx app (free; iOS and Android), which shows the cheapest price for medications in your area and provides coupons from manufacturers (no need to print). See if it’s possible to buy prescription medication in a three-month supply. Research shows you can save, on average, 29 percent in out-of-pocket costs.

5 Nix Excessive Exams.

Request copies of your medical records when you see the doctor, then snap photos and store them on a flash drive. Or use a secure app like My Medical ($5; iOS and Android) so they’re at the ready. This way, you’ll avoid taking repeat (pricey) tests, and the information may help other doctors treat you without having to order additional tests.

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6 Cover College Kids.

If going on a parent’s plan isn’t possible, or if a student is over 26, many colleges offer student health insurance plans, in which financial aid can help pay for basic coverage. Under the Affordable Care Act, students who don’t live in the same state as their parents can fill out an individual insurance application, and the cost of both their plan and their parents’ may benefit from a premium tax credit.

7 Share Appointments.

A great way to stretch your dollars? Shared medical appointments. At some clinics and family practices, you may have the option to share an appointment and could pay a fraction of the cost, says Marianne Sumego, MD, director of Shared Medical Appointments at the Cleveland Clinic. Group visits allow you to get hands-on care from doctors and share experiences with people who have similar chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or asthma, or general wellness concerns, like weight loss. Some shared appointments offer private, individual exams, while other exams may be done with the group, says Sumego. Appointment sharing can also make treatments not covered by your insurance more affordable.

State health care plans may change; for the latest information, visit the nonprofit advocacy group Families USA at familiesusa.org.