It’s a simple fact of living in the United States: Painful health care costs come up out of nowhere like a twisted ankle or a bump on the head. Then there’s the bizarre case of a father hitting the roof over the cost of his wife’s baby delivery: an example of sticker shock turning into relationship shock.
A 32-year-old mom told the Reddit subforum “Am I the A-Hole” she’s now considering “ending her marriage.” The woman received an epidural, along with support services to help her give birth: nursery time, a lactation consultant, postpartum supplies, and even hospital food and blood tests. Necessities, right?
Not if you’re her husband, they ain’t. Her hubby took one look at the $8,000 bill and derided her for accepting such “luxury” treatment. He even claimed she “caved” after getting an epidural in her 24th hour of labor — even though he’d encouraged it at the time. And so he demanded the charge come out of her personal savings because “he shouldn’t have to pay for all of [her] extra requests.”
Is a few thousand dollars worth 14 years of a relationship down the drain? Even if this example tops them all, it’s undeniable that money fights permeate most if not all marriages, especially when a big bill blindsides the couple. The lesson here is simple: Preparation for unexpected medical costs matters. Here’s how you can get your finances in order before trouble strikes.
Use a health savings account
The Health Savings Account (HSA) is a tax-advantaged funding source that helps you save up for medical expenses. Contributions are tax-deductible and withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free, so you’ll save money the instant funds leave the account to pay a bill.
The contribution limits for 2023 are $3,850 per individual and $7,750 to cover your family, according to the IRS. That’s up from the $3,650 and $7,300 thresholds in 2022. The HSA can be used not only to help you save money for short-term health expenses but also to build a cushion over time.
That’s because you can actually invest HSA funds in stocks and bonds. But of course you’ll always discuss these options with a trusted financial adviser before setting up an account.
Read more: ‘Hold onto your money’: Jeff Bezos says you might want to rethink buying a ‘new automobile, refrigerator, or whatever’ — here are 3 better recession-proof buys
Shop around for health care services
Looking for standardized health care costs is like walking into an office supply store and hoping they have just one type of printer cartridge instead 300.
Cruising through the ClearHealthCosts website will show you just how much a medical procedure can vary in price within the same metro area or region, not uncommonly by a factor of 10 or more. And statistics cited in Harvard Magazine show that even pre-COVID, $3.5 trillion was spent on healthcare in America — with a third of that wasted.
While ClearHealthCosts still serves a limited number of areas in the U.S., it may be the best comparison shopping tool online for medical procedures. It also gives you guidance on how to fight a bill — something the husband with sticker shock should’ve definitely looked up before his tantrum.
Review and revise your health insurance
Reviewing your health insurance policy is, yes, healthy. Doing it regularly will help you understand your coverage and the potential costs associated with medical treatments. Look in particular at deductible, copays, and coinsurance amounts, which can vary by wide amounts from plan to plan.
A 2020 study by eHealth found the average deductible for individual health insurance plans came to $4,364, actually on par with 2016 figures. That’s good news in terms of standard coverage. But be sure to review your plan — and perhaps switch coverage — if long-term hospitalization costs or major surgeries are only partially covered, or have a high deductible.
Here, it makes sense to consult a medical professional you know and trust for guidance. Do your own research through trusted sources as well, including ClearHealthCosts and major news outlets that can point you towards valuable resources.
Hopefully this will help you get started. And at least we now know what not to do. Just ask that new dad. He could be on his way to finding out how a hissy fit over an $8,000 bill leads to a much, much costlier divorce settlement.
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This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.