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Safely cut the cost of elective medical expenses

Nathaniel Sillin | 6/1/2017, midnight
Whether it's a matter of comfort, appearance or safety, there are many medical procedures that you may want or need, ...

Whether it's a matter of comfort, appearance or safety, there are many medical

procedures that you may want or need, but your health insurance won't cover.

Laser eye surgery may fall into the want category for most people and it can be a

hefty investment with each eye costing several thousand dollars. For those wanting

to start a family, infertility treatments, which can cost over $10,000, may be

closer to a need. Yet most states don't require health insurance to cover

treatments.

Considering the lasting impact that these and other procedures can have on your

life, you may not want to seek out the least expensive option. However, that doesn't

mean you should forgo attempts to save altogether. From tax-advantaged accounts to comparison shopping doctors, there are many approaches to safely cutting costs.

See if you could get a tax break. Although tax breaks don't lower a medical

procedure's price, tax deductions can decrease your taxable income and by using a

tax-advantaged account you may be able to pay for some medical procedures with

income-tax-free money.

  • Take a medical expense tax deduction. If you itemize your tax deductions

you can get a deduction for your qualified medical expenses

that exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. Laser eye surgery and some

fertility enhancement treatments may qualify. However, cosmetic surgery doesn't

unless it's related to a congenital abnormality, disfiguring disease or an injury

resulting from trauma or an accident.

  • Use an employer-sponsored flexible spending account (FSA). Some employers offer FSAs as an employee benefit.

You can make tax-deductible contributions to the account each year and withdraw the money tax-free to pay for qualified medical expenses, including health insurance

deductibles and copayments. However, this approach could require planning as you

may forfeit remaining FSA money at the end of each year.

  • Enroll in health insurance with a health savings account (HSA). An HSA account is

similar to an FSA in that you can contribute pre-tax money and withdraw funds to pay for eligible medical expenses tax-free. HSAs don't have the use-it-or-lose-it

requirement, but to qualify for an HSA account, you need to enroll in a High

Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) and can't be eligible for Medicare.

Ask your health insurance company about discounts. Even when a health insurance

provider doesn't cover a procedure, members may still be able to save money by going through their insurance.

For example, health insurance generally won't cover the cost of laser eye surgery,

but your provider may offer a 5 to 15 percent discount if you get the surgery at

partner eye care centers.

Health insurance requirements can also vary from one state to another, and you

should double-check your benefits before assuming something isn't covered.

Infertility treatment is one of these gray areas, as some states

require health insurance plans to provide coverage while others do not.

Compare costs from different providers. Varying medical costs sometimes make

Headlines when patients find out that a $3,000 medical procedure at a hospital could cost several hundred at a nearby clinic. If it's not an emergency, there are websites that you can use to comparison shop nearby medical centers and get estimated prices.

Some people also look for savings in other countries. Medical tourism

is a growing industry, and millions of people travel outside their home countries

seeking lower costs, higher-quality services, treatments that aren't available at

home, a relaxing environment to recover in or a combination of several of these

factors. While the U.S. is a destination for some medical tourists, Canada,

Southeast Asia, Latin America and parts of Europe are also popular.

Bottom line: Although you may not be able to convince your health insurance company

to cover what it considers an elective procedure; you can turn to other methods to

save money. As with other large expenses, you can take a dual big- and

little-picture approach by looking for tax breaks that lower your effective cost and

savings opportunities that can reduce a procedure's price.