Survival Techniques for the Barely Insured

If you’re anything like me, you’re barely insured. I don’t work for a company that offers benefits and so I’ve had to shop for individual insurance. Setting aside what a headache that was, I’ve ended up with catastrophic insurance. This means that if I step off a curb wrong and break every bone in my leg, I won’t be in totally ruined. That said, I don’t get any help with regular checkups or routine care.

There are lots of things I do every day to help keep the Doctor away that go far beyond a simple apple. Every day, I work toward more optimal health and have learned that prevention is far cheaper than treatment. Not only do I consider my health to be my greatest asset, but staying away from MDs is a financial reality I’ve had to learn to navigate. None of this is groundbreaking, but let it serve as a reminder that just like your financial health, your mental and physical health requires daily attention.

Get Insurance
Yes, it’s expensive and you’ll probably never use it. I haven’t had to go to the Doctor since college. The what-ifs however, are too disheartening to ignore. Any sort of grave accident or surprise diagnoses, without insurance, would have me sunk. I have an extremely high deductible and not surprisingly, it matches my emergency fund. If you feel like you don’t need insurance at all, you don’t necessarily need get much, but get yourself something.

Stay Active
We’ve heard it before but that still it doesn’t seem to budge some of us. According to a study by the American Journal of Health Promotion, extremely overweight Americans have medical costs nearly 70 percent higher than those who fall into the normal weight range. It isn’t all about keeping weight off; regular exercise keeps joints healthy and prepares you for life’s tumbles. I mean that literally. I have a friend who hasn’t a good sweat in years break his arm because he fell trying to avoid a skateboarder on the sidewalk. It’s an unfortunate event that probably could have been avoided with a little increased strength and flexibility.

That said, for some, gym memberships, even to the YMCA, can be budget busting. You don’t need to throw money at the problem. You’ll have less cool machines and built in inspiration, but there are things you can on a daily basis to keep yourself agile without spending a dime.

  • Walk as much as you can, even if it means parking in the back of the parking lot.
  • Take the stairs almost always even if you’re like me and live on the fifth floor.
  • YouTube your fitness. You have to look a little harder for quality, but YouTube is full of videos to help you meet your fitness goals. Whether it be a short yoga workout, some ab exercises, modified pushups, tai chi, parkours, you name it; type it into your search bar and give it a try.
  • Attack the kitchen. Turn your canned goods into weights and know that a 10-pound bag of flour weighs the exact same amount as a 10-pound dumbbell.
  • The local playground is my favorite gymnasium. After dinner, when kids are home, the monkey bars provide more challenge than anything I’ve found in doors.

Think outside the gym. Staying fit doesn’t need to be a full time job, but it should be part of your daily life. At least for me, I can’t afford not to. Good health pays dividends in the long run.

“Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.”
Michael Pollan’s simple beginning to his book “In Defense of Food” echo in my head every trip to the market. Yes, an apple a day helps, but reducing the amount of processed foods we eat will help keep the doctor away. You can learn to cook. Healthy food choices can be affordable, and more than that, in the long run, healthcare cost included, they’re cheaper. I’m comfortable taking my cues on this one from a few big bad corporations. Many larger corporations, such as REI and General Mills, have started programs to educate employees about nutrient dense foods such as kale, quinoa, and broccoli as well as change the options in the cafeteria. The reason given? It helps reduce cost with their company-provided health insurance.

Dental Hygiene
Of course dental isn’t covered under my insurance. That doesn’t mean I’ll get some floss and remember to brush twice a day and consider it done. From everything I’ve read, such as the difference between hard and soft plaque, with dental hygiene, there are some things we can’t do ourselves. Here as well, the name of the game here is preventative over treatment based. It’s a lot cheaper to keep good dental hygiene than to deal with a severe toothache or infection. In short, get your teeth cleaned.

I get my time with a DDS on the cheap by going to dental schools. Students in the clinic are nearing graduation and are closely supervised every step of the way. It takes all morning, but here in Seattle, the dental school is, on average, 40% cheaper per treatment than nearby dentists. For schools near you, check out the American Dental Association website.

Eyes Peeled for Savings
Most who need glasses know it by now. If you’re not sure, it’ll save you a lot of discomfort to get your eyes checked. Frames however, can be expensive. I’ve heard a lot of success stories from people going to the brick-and-mortar eyeglass shops, trying on various frames, and then going home and finding them on ebay for substantially cheaper. Also, keep your eyes peeled for two for one deals at your local eyeglass shop so you can have a pair waiting in the wings.

For your reading glass needs, I’ve heard great things about this website which doesn’t sell any reading glasses for more than $10, often offering 3 pairs for that price.

Get Bodywork
Massage, chiropractic care, and other forms of bodywork can substantially reduce your healthcare bill. Yes, massage is relaxing, but more importantly it strengthens the immune system, keeps your lymphatic system running strong, and can make minor aches and pains irrelevant before they become major problems.

There are great deals for massage on Groupon and other similar sites, but it can be a total crapshoot in terms of quality. The cheaper, more cooperate massage places are a dice-roll as well. Local massage schools have clinics and are less expensive and often just as good, plus you’re legally not allowed to tip.

Full disclosure here: I have private massage practice. I can attest that I have bartered for everything. From oil changes to website design to fresh produce, I’m often up to trade a massage for whatever, and I’m not alone. Most of my massage therapist friends agree. If you have any friends or co-workers who receive regular massage, ask for a recommendation, send an e-mail offering whatever service you can offer, and you may be surprised by the response. I’m not saying all massage therapists will do this as we are supposed to report any bartering to the IRS, but from my experience, most of us are up for a good ol’ fashioned barter.

Keep Your Mental Health In Order
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you feel like you might have any minor mental health issues, there are a number of things you can do to address them on your own. I was raised by a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and I’ve often heard my mother give the following advice:

  • Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
  • Consult self-help books
  • Discuss issues with close friends
  • Look at your ratio of work to play and work to reduce stressors
  • Cultivate your simple joys and do things bring you pleasure

If you ever feel like you can’t manage your feelings, take advantage of free mental health screenings, primarily offered during the month of October (national Mental Illness Awareness Month). Check out the Screening for Mental Health website for a location near you.

Many therapists also offer a sliding scale session based on income. Check out Psychology Today therapist finder for one in your area.

Be Mindful
Yes, accidents happen, but most of my accidents happen when I’m doing one thing with my mind in a totally different place. When I first started massage, one of my first days of appointments, I was making breakfast tacos, going over techniques and routines in my head while slicing an avocado and slid the knife right into my hand. I had to cancel appointments for an entire week.

Staying mindful of what I’m doing is one of the best preventative lifestyle choices I make. It takes time, attention, intention, and constant training, but not only am I living more in the present, but I’m far less likely to slip on a banana peel.

Minimal insurance isn’t for everyone, but for those of us who are barely covered, we need to take extreme care of our bodies every day.

How can you emphasis prevention over treatment? What are some of your ways of circumventing healthcare costs?

More about...Health & Fitness, Insurance

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