Ways to Plan Ahead for Major Medical Expenses

It's not where you prefer to put your money, but it’s smart to save up for the “just-in-case” major medical expense. Luckily, you can prepare for these unanticipated expenses. By choosing a quality health insurance plan, starting a health savings account, and educating yourself on medical expense deductions on your income tax return, you can help plan for most health situations.

 

Good Health Insurance Is Critical

Current law requires that you have health insurance, and it's the better part of wisdom to make sure you have the right coverage for you. It may be penny-wise and pound-foolish to pick up a cheap plan with a high deductible if you'll be strapped for money should something unexpected arise. Remember: A single visit to the emergency room can set you back several thousand dollars, even for a relatively minor issue.

 

Health Savings Plans Can Help

Use a health savings account to provide extra insurance in case of unexpected medical expenses. An HSA is a federally subsidized emergency fund for healthcare costs. If you are enrolled in a qualified health insurance plan with a deductible within the HSA limits, you can direct deposit a portion of your pretax paycheck into an HSA account earmarked for medical bills. You tap into the account balance to pay unexpected medical costs as they arise.

And if you don't use the money you put in your HSA this year, you can roll it over and have more next year. It continues to grow tax-free.

 

Tax Deductions for Medical Expenses

If you spend more than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income on medical expenses, you may be entitled to take a medical deduction to lower your tax bill. You're permitted to deduct different types of medical expenses, including fees for surgeries, prescription drugs, eye and dental care and even fertility procedures, but cosmetic procedures such as teeth whitening are not eligible. If you are at or over the 10-percent line, consider bundling discretionary medical expenses in order to increase the deduction. For example, if you want to do in vitro fertilization soon, schedule it the same year as other expensive medical costs.

 

Assistance Programs

There are local and state plans, as well as charitable and nonprofit organizations, that assist eligible patients with medical costs. It's a good idea to learn who they are and whether you qualify for help well before a medical emergency arises.

For example, California provides free health insurance for kids 18 and under with the Children's Health Coverage Plan. Patient Access Network Foundation assists patient with any one of the 21 diseases on their list. Patient Advocate Foundation helps make pharmaceutical copayments, and some drug companies also offer free drugs to those in need.

Don't know where to begin? Check the United Way's national referral website to get started.

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