In the midst of holiday preparations, it becomes easy to ignore your health or put off check-ups and doctor's appointments. But when you ring in the new year, you also reset the clock on your health insurance deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums, which for many employees are becoming increasingly higher.

To take care of your health and save money, you will want to make some strategic moves in the last few weeks of 2019.

Make the most of deductibles

Deductibles — the money you're required to pay out of pocket before insurance covers all or part of your health-care services — are becoming higher. If you have met your deductible, this is the time to schedule any medical treatments or procedures you put on hold.

Jeanine Karp, of Miami, says she could have delayed a surgical procedure until next year but wants to use her health insurance wisely.

"I could have waited without any harm to my health, but I pushed for the surgery to happen before the end of the year so I can avoid additional out-of-pocket costs," she said. "It's not ideal to be recovering when parties and fun things are going on, but financially it makes more sense to do it now."

She reached her deductible this year after treatment and physical therapy for a broken wrist.

An estimated 85% of workers enrolled in an employer plan are on the hook for a deductible, up from about 59% 10 years ago, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation of Menlo Park, Calif. The average deductible was $1,573 in 2018, up 39% over the past five years. By now, many employees have met their deductible and have only weeks to left with their health plans picking up the costs _ making it essentially free care.

If you have reached your deductible, it's a good idea to order prescription drugs before the year ends. A 90-day supply of medications could cover you through March.

If you plan any medical treatments, research the costs beforehand. Memorial Healthcare System has launched a healthcare price website to provide a quote for the cost of medical treatments, factoring in your insurance information. There is also an option to research costs for those who don't have or don't want to use insurance.

"I think it's a legitimate request of patients to have that information," said Matthew Muhart, Memorial Healthcare System's executive vice president and chief administrative officer. "When you check the price and see your out-of-pocket cost, it's an opportunity to use your remaining flexible spending."

Use all your FSA money

The Internal Revenue Service has set $2,700 as the maximum contribution to a tax-advantaged healthcare Flexible Savings Account. But unlike a Health Savings Account which can carry over into the next year, an FSA must be used by Dec. 31 or you forfeit the remaining amount in the account. Some employers offer a grace period of 2 { months; however, you would have to spend that before next year's funds are available.

Here are some expenses you can use your FSA money toward: mental health counseling, chiropractor visits, acupuncture, artificial teeth, hearing aids, eyeglasses and contact lenses. The IRS has a list of approved medical expenses.

Some people lose money simply by failing to claim the expenses they already have such as co-pays for prescriptions. Go through receipts now or ask your pharmacist for duplicates, and submit them as quickly as possible.


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