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Health insurance costs continue to skyrocket. Today, even those with employer-sponsored group insurance coverage find themselves shouldering more of the financial burden of paying for premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. 

It's no surprise then that more Americans are seeking ways to cut costs and fine-tune their coverage options.

But due to the complexity of the health care system and insurance marketplace, it can be challenging to know where to start. 

Read on for valuable tips that can help you save thousands on health insurance bills.

Do your health insurance homework

You don't have to be a passive policyholder and simply hope for the best when paying for health insurance. Experts agree that it pays to carefully research your choices and explore alternatives. That work can yield significant savings -- regardless of the plan type

"Health care expenses are becoming more like retirement, where the responsibility is increasingly on the consumer," says Brian Colburn, senior vice president of Corporate Development & Strategy at Alegeus, a consumer-directed healthcare company based in Boston. "The challenge with this is that 88% of consumers don't know how to best save and spend on their health care, and this hasn't changed much over the past five to 10 years."

Brian Martucci, an insurance expert at Minneapolis-based Money Crashers, notes that the federal government defines an affordable health insurance policy as one for which the policyholder pays -- in premiums and out-of-pocket costs for care -- no more than 9.83% of household income, according to SHRM.

"But one dollar out of every 10 is still a big share of household income," he says.

Consider that, per the most recent World Health Organization data, the U.S. out-of-pocket spending share of current health expenditure is 11%, exceeding the aforementioned threshold.

"It's important to go the extra step and explore ways to save on health insurance because every family has different needs and these costs can vary widely," suggests John Bartleson, owner of Health Benefits Connect in Englewood, Colorado. "Additionally, it's wise to understand all the different types of coverage available. If you are not well-informed, you may choose inadequate or ill-suited plans and face surprise costs."

Save money when choosing an employer-sponsored plan

Employed by a company that offers group insurance coverage? Consider yourself fortunate. This option usually saves policyholders the most money. But avoid quickly choosing a plan if your employer gives you multiple options. Instead, take the time to scrutinize your choices and consider these suggestions to save more dollars.

  • Think twice about carrying a spouse or domestic partner on your policy if they have access to insurance elsewhere. "Spousal premiums tend to be much higher than employee premiums," says Martucci.
  • Consider a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). "These plans tend to have the lowest premium, which means less money out of your paycheck," says Jason Bornhorst, CEO/co-founder of Firstdollar.com. "These plans are typically good choices for younger, healthy employees."
  • Unlock the power of the health savings account (HSA) if available. "The HSA is typically paired with HDHPs. It lets you save triple-tax-advantaged money for healthcare expenses, and employers typically contribute to health savings accounts, too, often $500 to $2,000 a year. This is free money you should be taking advantage of," adds Bornhorst.
  • If you’re under 26, try to stay on your parent’s health insurance if possible. The Affordable Care Act lets children stay on their parent’s health plan until the age of 26.
  • Look into "stacking." Bartleson says this strategy involves stacking multiple insurance plans together. "You start by selecting an HDHP with a low monthly premium and then use the premium cost savings to purchase a secondary plan. This secondary plan, offered either through your employer or an outside broker, is designed specifically to pay the deductible and out-of-pocket costs of the HDHP," he explains. "The result is a lower overall monthly premium, lower overall out-of-pocket costs, and great coverage for an individual or family."

Save money when choosing an individual plan

If your employer doesn't offer health insurance, or if you work for yourself, don't despair: You can still trim health insurance expenses by pursuing these recommendations in the individual health insurance market

  • Shop around for plans on the government's health insurance marketplace, which the Affordable Care Act established. You may be eligible for subsidies that will lower your out-of-pocket costs.

  • Insure your family members according to their specific needs. "Families aren't required to be on the same plan. Customizing health plans for different family members may seem complicated, but working with an experienced broker or agent can help you navigate the process," says Bartleson.

  • Investigate a defined benefit plan. This policy, offered by insurance companies, pays a specified sum based on a covered event, such as a hospital stay. "With defined benefit plans, there are no deductibles, co-insurance or co-pays. One of the plans I offer, for instance, pays up to $6,000 per day for hospitalization for up to 365 days per year," says Daniel Boyer, owner of Green Mountain Insurance Agency in Shawnee, Kansas.

  • If you’re under 30 and healthy, see if you’re eligible to get a catastrophic health plan. These plans offer the same coverage of a standard health insurance plan, but have low premiums. The one drawback is that they also have high out-of-pocket costs if you need care. However, if you’re young and healthy and want a health insurance safety net, a catastrophic plan can be a wise decision. 

  • Short-term health plans are an option if you have a gap in health insurance coverage. Most states allow these plans, which have low premiums, but limited benefits and high out-of-pocket costs. 

Save money on your current plan

Already enrolled in a health insurance plan? Ponder these strategies to generate more savings.

  • Don't assume you need to keep the same plan to keep your doctor. "Many doctors accept several different plans and networks, so don't be afraid to shop around for a better plan that lets you keep the same doctor," recommends Shelly Giuliano, marketing and product manager for the Government Employees' Benefit Association headquartered in Fort Meade, Maryland.

  • Aim to pay the lowest prescription costs. "Always ask your pharmacist what the generic prescription cost is without the insurance. A generic medication may be cheaper without going through insurance," says Bartleson. "There are also manufacturer coupons and rebates as well as drug discount networks that you can research that may lower your prescription costs."

  • Familiarize yourself with in-network providers in your area. "This way, you can avoid making the mistake of going out-of-network and paying a higher bill," Martucci says.

  • Consider online providers for routine medical care. "Especially with coronavirus, there's been an explosion of high-quality medical care you can receive over the Internet for significantly less cost," says Bornhorst.

  • Shop around when the next open enrollment/renewal period occurs. You may find a better plan that includes more of your favorite providers, for example.

Researching options can save you thousands

Make no mistake -- savings are possible if you're willing to do the work.

"You can potentially pocket thousands of dollars otherwise spent on premiums, out-of-pocket costs and medical charges," says Bartleson. "But remember that the ultimate goal is to ensure that you have the right coverage based on what you can afford."

Bornhorst agrees.

"It's very realistic to save money by researching your health plan choices," he says. "Take the time necessary to research your options and ask questions about anything you don't understand."

Check out Insurance.com’s Health Plan Finder to explore your options.