6 Tips to Take Control of Your Health Care Spending

American families are looking to rein in their health care spending as out-of-pocket costs have nearly doubled in the last decade, according to the latest Consumer Expenditure Figures.


Health care costs – including insurance premiums, medical services and drugs – accounted for 8 percent of annual household expenditures in 2014, compared to 5.7 percent in 2005. That’s an average jump of $2,664 to $4,290.

Here are six tips from Craig Hankins, vice president of digital products at UnitedHealthcare, on how you can take control of your health care spending.

1. Take advantage of health care benefits. Many plans cover annual check-ups and screenings. Find out what your plan covers and take advantage of inclusions or discounts, including tax-free health savings account (HSA) contributions, sometimes matched by employers.

2. Shop around. UnitedHealthcare’s Health4Me mobile app lets consumers comparison shop for health care based on quality and cost. They can also find out average prices for more than 850 medical services, showing consumers what they can expect to pay for treatment.

3. Don’t be fooled. Prices vary significantly for services at hospitals and doctors’ offices, even though there’s little evidence that higher cost translates into higher quality. For instance, the total cost for an uncomplicated childbirth at hospitals in California ranged from $3,296 to $37,227, according to a 2014 study. UnitedHealthcare found that Health4Me users who employed the myHealthcare Cost Estimator were more likely to select higher quality health care providers across all specialties.

Infographic: Example of the cost of common health care services


UnitedHealthcare’s myHealthcare Cost Estimator service allows users to search for quality health care providers and estimate the cost of common procedures in your area, as in this example for the Chicago area.

4. Avoid fees associated with using the E.R. As many as 27 percent of emergency room visits in the U.S. could be managed in lower-cost settings such as urgent care, a doctor’s office or a virtual visit, according to a 2010 study. UnitedHealthcare’s Quick Care tool can help consumers identify options for urgent care needs.

5. Understand your coverage. Each insurer sets contracted rates with health care providers, and each plan covers different services. To avoid surprise out-of-pocket bills, use pricing tools offered by your insurer to help confirm costs in advance, including facility fees and specialist charges, or varying rates, even among in-network doctors.

6. Go generic. Generic medications contain the same active ingredients as their brand-name counterparts, and they can save you money. And remember that generics can cost as much as 10 times more at one retailer vs. another, so shop around. UnitedHealthcare members can compare prescription costs through the pricing tool at myuhc.com and the Health4Me app.