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How Can I Save Major Money On Minor Surgery?


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Question: I’m a 45-year-old school teacher and don’t have health insurance, but sometime in the next few months, I’ll need to get a painful plantar wart removed. When should I sign up for health insurance so I can get treated without paying for extra months when I don’t need to be treated? And can I drop the coverage right after? Is that what Obamacare is?

Beth in New Hampshire

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

I don’t often write about healthcare. It’s a complex topic, and as a financial counselor, it’s difficult to advise people on how to best spend and save on their health coverage for their specific situation.

In your case, I can only tell you this: Please stop looking at health insurance like it’s investing in stocks. You can’t time the market, and you certainly can’t time your healthcare.

Sadly, a study last month from the research firm Bankrate found in the past year, a quarter of American families “have decided not to seek medical attention when they needed it because of the cost.” Of those, 13 percent had no health insurance.

The same day that study appeared, so did another from GoBankingRates, which showed prescription drug prices are rising faster than inflation. In 2016, drug prices soared 10.7 percent, and “pharmacy costs for employer health insurance providers have increased 21 percent in the past 10 years.”

That’s costly, because the same study showed that nearly half of all Americans filled a prescription every 30 days between 2009 and 2012.

What does this mean for you, Beth?

It means you need to do some homework. I’m unsure from your letter if you’re paying the penalty for the Affordable Care Act or if you had an exemption. I also don’t know if you have a job where health insurance is offered but you didn’t take it.

If you teach at a public school, you have a healthcare plan available to you, and I urge you to sign up for it — even if you think it’s costly. It’s better to cut spending elsewhere to have at least minimal coverage. If you think a plantar wart will be pricey, other procedures are far more expensive. I don’t wish to be morbid or cynical, but if you suffer a chronic illness or lingering pain from a car accident, you’ll really wish you had that insurance.

I also don’t wish to be impolite, but at your age, Beth, you need to have health insurance. While 25-year-olds may be able to skate by with no coverage, not so for 45-year-olds.

As a business owner myself who has struggled to find affordable plans for employees, I realize the burden of those monthly payments. I urge you to consult with the human resources department where you work. There’s no easy answer, Beth, but there are answers, tough as they may be.

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