Prioritizing your health is important, but it can also be expensive. Health insurance costs can add up, and your premium is not the only expense you’ll be responsible for. You may also have co-pays and bills before you reach your deductible.

If you get sick or injured, your first thought may be to just go to the doctor or emergency room and deal with the bill later. But, at least 41% of working-age Americans have medical debt. While it’s important to prioritize your health, medical debt can be crippling to your financial situation as well.

One solution that’s worth looking into is getting ahead of medical debt by establishing your own medical rainy day fund. That way, you have a savings cushion to fall back on when you need it.

Here’s how to start and grow your own medical rainy day fund.

Understand What Your Insurance Covers (And What’s Not Covered)

Start by reviewing your health insurance policy to know exactly what coverage you have. There’s PPO, HMO, HDHPs (high deductible health plans) and employer-sponsored plans that may have certain limitations and inclusions. Find out if any services aren’t covered like mental health or fertility services.

Some services will be covered of course. But make sure you know what (if any) the limitations are so you can prepare financially.

Pay attention to what your deductible and copay amounts are. This could help you determine how much you need to save in a medical emergency fund. For example, if you have a high deductible health plan, this means you may pay more out of pocket until your deductible is met. As a result, you may want to build a larger medical rainy day fund.

It’s also helpful to review what type of insurance you have so you can save money by seeing a doctor that is in-network. I know HMO plans are less flexible in regards to who you can see that’s in-network. So if you have an HMO plan, be sure to do your research ahead of time if you don’t want to get stuck with a big bill.

Get Quotes on Care in Advance

Wondering how much that medical cost or preventative care will cost? Ask and get a quote.

After all, you’re going to get billed and have to pay for whatever insurance doesn’t cover. So, you might as well know what you could be paying and plan accordingly. Some medical facilities will allow you to talk with someone who can help give you a quote on a particular service granted your insurance covers their part.

While you’re at it, you can also inquire about payment plan options and the timeline for that process. While you can’t plan to pay for every medical expense (since some are expected), getting quotes for planned medical costs can help you save and budget better.

Create Your Own Medical Rainy Day Fund Budget

Let’s face it, you may not know exactly what you’ll spend on medical bills each year. Still, consider creating a budget category so you can be motivated to save. You may want to review what you spent on medical co-pays, doctor’s visits, and hospital bills in previous years to get a good idea of how much you need to save.

Also, calling your medical provider for quotes on a procedure or service you’re planning on having in the future can be a great way to come up with a realistic savings goal.

Realize that you won’t build your medical rainy day fund if you don’t budget for this specific category. We all have plenty of expenses to cover each month. It’s easy to set a goal but not follow through with it if there’s no official plan.

Utilize Your HSA and Other Tools

Not everyone has access to an HSA (Health Savings Account) but it’s worth using if you have a high deductible health plan through your employer. My husband’s last employer offered a high deductible plan with the HSA option, and that’s what we chose.

My family and I are pretty healthy but with a high deductible, it makes it more difficult to get insurance to cover certain bills. The HSA is an account that we were able to contribute to which helped us build our medical rainy day fund.

HSA savings can be used to cover qualifying medical expenses including those not covered by your insurance like prescriptions, dental, and vision care.

There are also many tax advantages to contributing to your HSA. You can contribute money tax-free up to the annual limit for that year. Once you hit a $2,000 savings balance, you can start investing any additional HSA contributions and grow it tax-free.

Pay Yourself First

Want to guarantee that you’ll reach your medical rainy day fund balance? Commit to paying yourself first. Prioritize your goal to save for medical expenses so you can avoid bills and collections.

Deposit money to savings whenever you get paid before you cover any other bills. When it comes to prioritizing a financial goal, it’s important to realize that you can only focus on one priority at a time. So, if you have debt or other savings goals, choose what your primary focus will be and knock one goal out at a time.

Stay the Course With Your Medical Rainy Day Fund

Building your medical rainy day fund won’t happen overnight. The key is to get started and stay the course. There will be some months where you may not be able to contribute much. Then, other months you may blow your savings goal out of the water.

Either way, keep growing your savings when you can. In the meantime, be sure to get quotes on different medical services if possible and explore your options with payment plans.

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