Going to the doctor is not one of my favorite activities. Going to the dentist is even farther down on the list. Yet each time I put off my routine checkups, I find myself both grumpy and out of pocket later on, paying for treatments I might have avoided if I had caught the issues early enough. I still remember the dentist checkup I skipped several years ago. About six weeks later I was in my car, driving five hours north to a speaking engagement. Suddenly I felt a lump on my gumline. I pulled over and looked in the mirror—yikes!!—an oozing bump! I called my dentist from the road and he insisted I come in the next day.

He then discovered that the oozing bump was an abscess, which indicated an infected tooth. The infected tooth turned into a root canal. That was not a good financial year for me. Since then, I’ve been trying to be much more conscientious about paying the small costs of staying well rather than the large costs of getting better. Here are some simple hints that can keep your medical costs in check—and help you feel healthy and at your very best!

1. Skipping your routine medical and/or dental check-ups

As my opening story indicates, I've made this mistake many times—but not anymore. If you have a pet, you may have heard your veterinarian warn you that routine checkups are critical. This is because pets often hide their dis-ease from those around them—it’s a survival skill that’s literally hard-wired into their DNA.  The last time my vet told me that (shortly after the root canal fiasco) I realized that the same often holds true for me as well! Now, I keep my routine appointments…with bells on. Here’s a cost example from my own checkbook.

  • What I would have spent on a routine dental checkup (with early detection x-rays): $125
  • Cost of a filling (the early treatment I would have been given for the decay): $275
  • Cost of a root canal (the treatment I ended up having because I waited): $1,500 plus two days lost time from work—one to have the procedure and the other to recover from the brutal meds they gave me (both for pain and for reducing infection).
  • Extra costs I could have avoided: $1,100 + two days lost pay (as a freelancer, when I don't work, I don't earn!)

2. Buying a health insurance policy with a very low (or very high) premium

My mom has always said to me, "everything in moderation." While this doesn't apply to absolutely everything, it certainly is an excellent motto when it comes to selecting a health insurance policy. Buy too little policy (what’s typically called a "catastrophic" or "emergency only" policy) and you’ll pay out of pocket for pretty much everything—unless you die, at which time at least your family will not have to foot the whole bill for your burial and memorial service. Buy too much policy (what’s typically called a "low deductible" policy) and you’ll likely pay much more than the actual value you use from the policy in a calendar year. The trick here, of course, is to buy a policy somewhere in the middle ground—with enough preventative care and basic diagnostic care to keep you healthy but not so much so you overpay for value received. Here’s a cost example from my own checkbook.

  • The cost for my 2010 annual "mid range" individual insurance policy ($1,500 deductible): $4,000
  • The total cost for the surgical procedure I needed that year: $9,000
  • My total out-of-pocket cost (with insurance): $3,000
  • My total out-of-pocket cost (with no insurance): $9,000
  • My cost savings: $2,000 (even with the $4,000 I paid in premiums, I still saved $2,000!)

3. Diagnosing yourself (or a loved one) using the Internet

With the rise of the Internet age, there’s more information free for the surfing to anyone who wants it. But this doesn’t mean that information you’ll find is good or relevant to your specific situation. Best case scenario, you may luck out finding a treatment that works. Worst case scenario, you may end up in a crisis situation. Here’s a cost example from my own checkbook.

  • The total cost of the pelvic rehabilitation care I needed after my 2010 surgery: $4,000
  • The out-of-pocket cost I spent in trying to fix myself using the Internet as a resource (including OTC supplements, acupuncture, visiting doctors for second, third and fourth opinions [always with a new "theory" about what I had], colonoscopy, CAT scan, ultrasound, pelvic scan): $2,500
  • The total cost of the pelvic rehabilitation care I’m now receiving: $4,000
  • Extra costs I could’ve avoided: $2,500, plus three years of unnecessary pain and suffering!
3 Tips to Avoid Costly Medical “Savings” Mistakes