If you have any prescription medications you take on a regular basis, you probably have a routine - go to the pharmacy, wait in line, hand over your insurance card and pay for the prescription with your debit or credit card.
Even with your insurance chipping in, chances are you end up paying a decent chunk of the bill out-of-pocket. If you're battling a chronic condition, those costs can really add up over time. But what if you could get that medicine at a cheaper price without using your insurance card?
It might sound crazy, but billing your insurance isn't always the most cost-effective option. Here's what you should know about the alternatives, and how your FSA card can save you even more.
Pay for prescription medicine instead of using insurance
GoodRx is the most common type of prescription discount card, and it's completely free. Blink Health, SingleCare and WellRx are some of the other cards available. All you have to do is print one out or have it mailed to you.
These discount cards only apply if you don't bill the prescription to your insurance. Here's how it works: You fill the prescription at a pharmacy, present the GoodRx or similar discount card and then pay for the remainder with your FSA card. Some pharmacies will even have the cards sitting out for anyone to use.
Discount prescription services list their prices before you buy, so you can see if it will be cheaper than using insurance and which pharmacy has the best price. As with most cost-saving measures, shopping around is a step toward saving the most money.
Pay for over-the-counter medicine
You can use your FSA card to pay for over-the-counter (OTC) medicine if a qualified professional has prescribed it (note that OTC items which do not contain an active medical ingredient will not require a prescription and you can shop for thousands of qualified items here). The prescription must be written before you buy the drug and generally within the FSA plan year in which you purchase it. .
You can use your FSA card when you buy the item at the drugstore. You can also pay with a regular debit or credit card and then request reimbursement from your FSA provider. Keep the receipt and the prescription to prove it's a qualified medical expense.
Pay for prescription medicine after insurance
If billing your insurance is still the cheapest way to buy a prescription, you can use your FSA card to save even more money.
When you fill the prescription, give the pharmacist your insurance card. They'll run the prescription and bill you for any leftover amount. You can pay for that directly with your FSA card or use a debit or credit card and then file a claim with your FSA provider. And of course, keep the receipt to prove it was an FSA-eligible expense.
New to FSAs? Need a refresher course in all things flex spending? Our weekly Flex-Edcolumn gives you a weekly dose of FSA Living 101, offering tips for making the most of your tax-free funds. Look for it every Thursday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center.
If you're like most people, you love scoring a deal. Happy hours, cash-back apps, and end-of-season sales are your "go-to" ways to save money. You wouldn't think twice about shopping around for a new car or a hotel stay. Why shouldn't your health get the same level of attention?
According to a recent Health Affairs study, most people don't comparison shop for services. Folks believe comparing costs is important, but only 3% actually do it. Knowledge is one big deterrent — 75% of people don't know where to get the info they need. And some are scared to ruffle any feathers with their current provider.
We get it — healthcare deals aren't lurking in your inbox like Nordstrom's latest flash sale. But there are major price differences between providers. Accepting the first offer may mean paying more than you need to. If you are ready to make a change, we have you covered. Here are some ways to save by comparison shopping for health care.
Stop overpaying for prescriptions
It's expensive to manage a chronic condition — especially with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). Even with a health savings account (HSA), monthly prescriptions can be a tough pill to swallow. Luckily, you have more choices than the nearest drugstore.
WeRx or GoodRx are a couple of good comparison websites. By plugging in your prescription, you can compare prices at big box stores. If a pharmacy buys directly from a drug company, there may be extra savings they can pass along to you. You can also use these websites to see if mail order options are cheaper.
Compare prices for common procedures
When your doctor suggests a routine procedure — like an ultrasound or MRI — be sure to carefully jot down all the specifics. Don't leave the office without asking for the procedure's CPT code.
Nonprofit websites like FAIR Health manage the country's largest database of health insurance claims. They allow you to plug in a CPT code and to see the average local cost. You may be shocked to see the wide range of prices in your city for the exact same service.
For example, I plugged in my Nashville ZIP code and "sleep study" to see how much it costs for a diagnostic test. FAIR Health's estimates range from $2,845 (in-network) to $6,617 (out-of-network). That's a massive difference.
You can use the estimate to negotiate directly with the provider you choose. It may also come in handy if your insurance company pays less than you expected. FAIR Health offers step-by-step instructions on how to navigate both of these scenarios.
Never accept the first offer
There is nothing fun about wrestling with medical bills. But the truth is, some headaches are avoidable. Would you drop hundreds of dollars on home repairs without getting multiple estimates? Probably not.
You owe it to yourself to follow the same rules for health care. By uncovering affordable options, you may be less likely to delay a costly — but necessary — procedure. These proactive moves could keep you healthier for years to come.
Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weeklyReal Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.