Money Leaks: Not Using Your Medical Benefits

A lot has been made about health care in the United States, especially given the recent passage of “health care reform.” Proponents of health care reform argue that it wasn’t enough, enemies of the bill say that it puts an undue burden on businesses and is government interference in our personal lives. No matter how you approach it, health care is a big issue because, bottom line, we all want to be healthy, right?

Well, as it turns out, it’s very easy for you to not use all of your medical benefits. I don’t mean flexible spending accounts, which are the most obvious benefit that could be squandered either by not participating or letting a balance expire. I mean the regular routine checkups you are eligible for but don’t take advantage of.

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 Frugal Living 

How to Make Your Own “Green” Mouthwash

Bottles in a WindowEvery year I make my ritual visit to my local dentist for a routine cleaning, and every year I get the “you should really be using mouth-wash” speech. And every year I get sent home with my bag of dental goodies, including a little bottle of Crest mouthwash.

OK, I get it.

Mouth-wash is an important part of my teeth-cleaning-routine. After four years in braces and becoming a mother (something about the hormones affecting teeth enamel). As the EcoDiva, and the champion of all things organic, natural and non-toxic, I have to do what I know it right – “read the label”.

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Last-Minute FSA Spending Ideas

With only three days left in the year, a lot of people are scrambling to spend down their Flexible Spending Accounts before the balance expires worthless. It’s a crazy system but those are the rules. Fortunately, if you can’t squeeze in any end-of-the-year dentist appointments or medical checkups, you can always spend them on eligible over-the-counter supplies you will likely need next year. I’ve put together a list of things I usually stock up on if I find myself with a few extra bucks.

In the past I’ve always bought a lot of my OTC products on because they helpfully label which items are FSA-eligible, which takes a bit of the guesswork out, and because I won’t have to pay sales tax on my purchases. is a good place too but they don’t label FSA eligible products.

Last Minute FSA Ideas

  • Contact lens solution
  • First aid kits – When I’ve stocked up on everything else, I just buy some first aid kits to put in the car, my wife’s car, our kitchen, our upstairs closet…
  • Band-aids, blister band-aids
  • Motion/sea/car sickness pills
  • Pain relief – Advil, Tylenol, Bayer, etc… you can’t have too much.
  • Electric heating pads
  • Thermometers
  • Allergy medicine – Loratadine is always good to have, it’s the antihistamine in Claritin, at a fraction of the price.
  • Healing lotions – They often smell like medicine but they’re good for you.
  • Acid reflux drugs – I don’t use them often but when I need them, it’s awesome to have them handy.
  • Smoking cessation products
  • Braces, supports, ACE bandages
  • Ice packs – for those sprained ankles
  • Blood pressure monitor – instead of using the trusty arm wrap pump (I made up that name) and stethoscope, go 21st century!
  • Defibrillator – This is for when you’ve grossly under-estimated your spending, by like a thousand dolllars or more, you can consider getting one of these. It’s for cases like where you planned on Lasik but then couldn’t get the procedure. These things usually last only a couple years too (pads last for around 2, battery for four, and you need to frequently test them), but they are lifesavers if you have a heart attack..

Good luck!


Medical Services More Expensive Without Insurance

This week I went in for a routine dental visit to get my semi-annual cleaning and passed the checkup with flying colors. Today I saw the claim hit my dental benefits website and the disparity between the Fee Charged and the Fee Paid (that is the negotiated price the insurance company agreed to) was a lot larger than I ever expected. My out of pocket expense was a nice $0, as expected for my routine cleanings, and this was the first time I ever looked at my dental claim so I was surprised to see how much less the negotiated fee was compared to the fee charged. (% Diff was calculated as $ Diff divided by Fee Charged)

Line Item Fee Charged Fee Paid $ Diff % Diff
Additional Intraoral Film $21 $4 $17 85%
Intraoral X-Ray $24 $14 $10 42%
2 Bitewing X-Rays $42 $20 $22 52%
Periodic Oral Evaluation $43 $22 $21 49%
Cleaning – Adult $76 $48 $28 37%
Total $206 $108 $98 48%

This was something my friend first pointed out to me whenever he had work done on his car after an accident, that the fee you would normally pay for service is generally higher than the fee you would pay if the insurance company pre-negotiated the fee, but I didn’t think the difference was this high. But, if nothing else, gives you ammunition (and a big of confidence) if you’ve ever considered negotiating fees with your doctor. If the insurance company can get a 48% discount, by haggling a little bit you should be able to knock off a little from the starting price.

The biggest surprise was the “Additional Intraoral Film” item. I accidentally swallowed when they took the first X-Ray so they had to take another X-Ray of my front teeth. To think that it would’ve been $21 to pay for it on my own and a mere $4 otherwise is pretty ridiculous, an 85% difference!

This is a double-whammy for anyone who want to self-insure themselves because not only do they have to pay out of pocket, they don’t pay insurance company negotiated rates, they pay rack rates (to use a hotel booking term). So, if you’re thinking about self-insuring, certainly keep that in mind (and the fact that you have much more leeway than you probably expect when it comes to negotiating the fee itself).

 Investing, Personal Finance, Retirement 

Take the “Free” Benefits of Employment

Whether it’s medical benefits or free cash via a retirement account, I think many people underutilize the benefits they receive from work. I know I don’t think of using my free checkups/physicals until I have to re-enroll for the next year (coming up soon in July). Not only have you already paid for these benefits, it’ll help you live a healthier and fuller life! 🙂

Every medical plan includes a routine examination and physical every single year at usually no cost to you. Ever hear of those stories where the doctor caught something that could’ve been much worse in a routine physical? All you have to do is schedule an appointment, go in, and get yourself checked out. As you grow older, other preventative maintenance examinations are also included. If they don’t find anything out of the ordinary, that’s great. If they do? Then they’ll have caught it as early as realistically possibly, every year. In addition to these, your plan may include chiropractor’s visits or other sorts of doctor’s visits you wouldn’t even have thought of. Take a look at your plans and see what you can get for free.

Again, a free dental cleaning every year. You may absolutely hate going to the dentist but if you go every year then small cavities are caught before their large cavities and anything else that could be problematic can be detected early. Plus, if your teeth are cleaned infrequently then it’ll take a much harder scrubbing to get them clean.

If you’re enrolled in a vision plan, typically a yearly exam is also included for free. Get those eyes checked and be able to see correctly. Some plans also include a free pair of glasses or a number of pairs of contacts each year for free (think of it really as paying up front).

I didn’t want to leave “free” benefits without talking about the free company match contribution to a 401k. As much as it’s been brought to the forefront by mainstream media, lots of people still don’t contribute to their retirement plans! My company will fully match the first 2% and 50% of the next 2% of your contribution. At my company, that contribution is fully vested immediately (some plans require a longer time period, 5 years seems to be typical) so it’s worth it even if I intended to leave tomorrow.

Have I missed any? Let me know!

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