Personal Finance

Rx for a healthy retirement: Watch medical costs

Key Points
  • More money spent on the doctor often means less money for savings.
  • More than half of employees who've experienced rising health care costs say they've been less able to pay off their debt or save for retirement.
Make the most of your Health Savings Account

If your finances seem a little under the weather this year, rising health care costs may be partly to blame.

Nearly 8 in 10 employees saw their health care costs go up in 2016, according to a new report from Bank of America. As a result, 56 percent say they are spending less or contributing less to their financial goals like saving for retirement or paying down debt.

"This is a big, big dilemma," said Victoria Fillet, a certified financial planner at Blueprint Financial Planning.

Not only are premiums increasing, employees who get health insurance at work are also covering a larger share of the cost. The average worker's financial contribution for his or her health insurance has swelled by 80 percent in the last 10 years, according to Kaiser's 2016 Employers Health Benefit Survey.

Reducing your medical expenses to free up cash for other goals may be easier said than done. The high costs of protecting your health makes that a challenge, said Eliot Fishman, senior director of health policy at Families USA.

"Medical expenses are historically the greatest reason for bankruptcies," Fishman said.

Start by asking more questions at the doctor's office.

"Consumers need to learn how to be empowered patients," said certified financial planner Carolyn McClanahan, director of financial planning at Life Planning Partners.

When your doctor orders a test, always ask if the test is necessary, and if it's the most cost-effective option, said McClanahan, who is a certified financial planner and an M.D.

Brenda Muller | Gallo Images | Getty Images

"Make sure the test has some utility and that it's not just a standard procedure," McClanahan said.

If you have a high-deductible health plan, consider using a health savings account, Fillet said. HSAs have a triple tax advantage: Contributions are tax deductible, grow tax free and can also be withdrawn tax free for qualified medical costs.