January 23rd, 2020 BY Jennifer Davis
It’s no secret that healthcare in America is expensive. Even if you have a good health insurance plan — and you do have one, right? — the cost of just going to your doctor for a nagging cough can blow your budget for the month. Wouldn’t it be great if you had some info ahead of time to cut down on those costs?
Lucky for us, technology makes everything from getting food to paying your taxes as easy as clicking through an app. And while technology hasn’t quite streamlined our healthcare needs just yet, there are still plenty of apps and websites designed to make getting help simple, convenient and (sometimes) affordable.
Need to estimate the cost of a knee replacement or find a good deal on prescriptions? How about finding a therapist without jumping through a dozen hoops? Here are some great websites to help you tackle your healthcare needs.
Healthcare price-checking websites have been around for a while, but you need to be choosy. For one thing, they’re not all the same. Price information for healthcare isn’t easy to get because there are no standardized prices for, say, an MRI or stitches. Where you live, what your insurance pays and other factors affect your end cost as a patient and a customer.
Still, you may be able to get some idea of your costs by looking them up ahead of time. Here are a couple options:
- FairHealthConsumer: Using data from billions of healthcare claims in the U.S., FairHealth offers estimates on a variety of medical costs, which they update twice a year. You’ll also find information on the claims process and other helpful tidbits.
- HealthcareBluebook: Another good option for estimating healthcare costs, Healthcare Bluebook aggregates costs by location to give consumers a better understanding of what they can expect to pay for certain things. There’s also an app version for iOS and Android.
There are several other websites offering similar services, but these are two of the most recognized sources for finding out pricing information. The Trump administration has also been working to increase price transparency, but there hasn’t been much momentum on these legislative moves as of the time of this writing. (We’ll keep you posted if that changes.)
In the meantime, use one of the above websites to estimate your healthcare costs. They aren’t perfect, but they may help you prepare for what you might pay. Check with your insurance company, too, since some of the bigger insurers — like UnitedHealthcare — offer this information to their members.
As we mentioned earlier, running to the doctor for every ache and pain can add up, even when you have health insurance. Retail clinics can be a less expensive option, sometimes, but these might not be available to you or available at hours that don’t work. Enter telehealth. Telehealth is still a burgeoning advancement in the field of healthcare, but it has great potential.
From the comfort of your own home, you can pull up real doctors to assess, diagnose and get treatment for various conditions that don’t require in-person care. These might include:
- Respiratory illnesses, like cold or flu
- Skin problems, such as a new rash
- Back or head pain
Basically, if you don’t need a doctor to touch you, telemedicine will probably work. That means you still need to go in person for things like strange lumps or the worst headache of your life (that’s an ER-level visit, by the way).
Lots of options exist here, some with websites and others with websites and apps that are highly rated in the iOS app store. We aren’t partnered with any of these services. We’re simply listing some of the more popular ones for your reference. If you need a doctor but it’s an odd time or you can’t get in to see your regular provider, check out:
Keep in mind that these websites usually work with health insurance, too. Your health plan may cover the visits with a basic fee of around $50. It may be more than you want to pay, but telehealth visits can help you cut costs and get you the care you need when you need it.
The telehealth services we listed above also provide mental healthcare on demand. Virtual mental health services is still a relatively new concept, particularly given the more sensitive nature of mental health. But the American Psychiatric Association gave telepsychiatry — an extension of telehealth that includes virtual access to mental health practitioners — its stamp of approval in 2015, noting:
Telemedicine in psychiatry, using video conferencing, is a validated and effective practice of medicine that increases access to care. The American Psychiatric Association supports the use of telemedicine as a legitimate component of a mental health delivery system to the extent that its use is in the best interest of the patient and is in compliance with the APA policies on medical ethics and confidentiality. (emphasis added)
In addition to the websites we listed in the last section that provide mental as well as physical help, there are several apps available for contacting licensed, board-certified mental health professionals. Some operate on a subscription basis that may be more affordable than seeing a therapist in person.
There are also apps for helping you de-stress, cope with anxiety and depression, improve your overall mood and more. Psycom.net already did the heavy lifting for rounding up mental health apps, so we’ll direct you to their great list if you’re looking for new ways to bolster your mental health in 2020.
Prescription drug prices can be mind-bogglingly high. And there’s no rhyme or reason for the difference in cost that you might pay at one pharmacy over another. Insurance might help offset some of those costs, but it’s not always reliable.
In fact, paying cash might save you hundreds of dollars over using your insurance. And thanks to a new law that took effect this year, pharmacists can help you decide if paying cash is a better option. They’re not restricted by any gag clauses that would otherwise tie their hands. (Here’s the law, in case you’re curious.)
But if you want to save even more money or just want to check your prescription drug costs, check out GoodRX.com, a popular website that makes getting prescription meds more feasible for more people. You can use the site’s search feature to compare prices on prescriptions and find the lowest option in your area. You can also download free coupons to reduce the price you pay at the pharmacy counter. GoodRX is a completely free consumer service, but the company also offers a paid membership program called GoodRX Gold. (For more info on GoodRX Gold, check out our full review here.)
Be a Savvy Healthcare Shopper
Paying for healthcare is pricey. Health insurance can help you pay less when you get care, but it’s still a costly prospect for most people. Seeing a doctor in person can also be inconvenient, especially if you work irregular hours or live in a rural area and don’t have access to some types of providers, like mental health professionals.
As tech advances continue to streamline our daily lives, consider adding healthcare apps to your arsenal of useful adulting tools. Just remember to vet these websites and apps carefully. Look for legitimate reviews, accreditations from real organizations and upfront language about the services they offer.