The holiday season has arrived and your calendar is filling up with obligations. But, even though your time is already limited, it might be worthwhile to add a few medical and dental appointments to your schedule. Yes, you'll be extra busy, but you might save a significant amount of money by taking care of these appointments now, instead of waiting until 2012. Below, we tell you how.(For more year-end strategies, read 10 Money-Saving Year-End Tax Tips.)

TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics

Get Treatment Before Your Annual Deductible Resets
Let's say your health and dental insurance provides little to no coverage until you spend a certain amount out of your own pocket - your annual deductible. If you've used your insurance at all this year, you've probably made some progress towards meeting that deductible. In fact, you may have already met it completely.

Let's say you've been having trouble sleeping for months, and you'd really like to go to the doctor to see if there's anything they can do about it. Let's also say that you have a $500 annual deductible that you've already met for 2011. Consider these two scenarios.

Scenario 1: You decide to put off the visit to the doctor until January. When you go, your doctor says that you need a sleep study. The sleep study costs $500 and your insurance covers 90% of the cost, after you meet your deductible. You haven't met any of your deductible yet, so the sleep study costs you $500.

Scenario 2: You decide to go to the doctor now. Since you've already met your deductible, your insurance pays for 90% of the $500 sleep study, or $450. You only pay $50. (For more on health care, check out Fighting The High Costs Of Healthcare.)

Use Up Your Annual Maximums
With dental insurance, the same logic about annual deductibles applies, but you should also take annual maximums into account. Once you reach your annual maximum, which is a limit on how much your insurance will pay for the year, you'll have to pay for any further dental treatments out of pocket. If you've ever paid the full price for a root canal, you know how costly a lack of dental coverage can be.

The annual maximums for dental insurance are usually fairly low, ranging from $1,000 to $2,000. If you need any significant work during the year, you can use up these maximums fairly quickly.

If you haven't met your annual maximum for 2011 yet and you know or suspect you may need dental work, take care of it now so you have a clean slate in 2012.

Here's an example:
If you have an annual maximum of $1,500, you've used up $1,000 of it and you need fillings that will cost $500, get them now. You'll use your full annual maximum of $1,500 for 2011 and you'll have $1,500 available for 2012.

If you wait until 2012 to get the fillings, you don't take advantage of all the benefits you've paid insurance premiums for in 2011, and you could end up with a shortage of coverage in 2012.

Furthermore, addressing medical and dental problems now rather than putting off treatment can prevent the problems from getting worse, which could save you even more money compared to waiting. (If you are worried about a lack of dental coverage, read Should You Bite On Dental Insurance?)

Use Up Your Existing FSA Contributions
Another good reason to take care of medical and dental work now is to spend any remaining balance in your flexible spending account (FSA). This is an account that you establish through your employer, and that you may have elected to have some of your pre-tax pay put into. If you don't use all of your FSA contributions by the end of the year, you lose them.

FSA money can no longer be spent on over-the-counter drugs unless you get a doctor's prescription for them, and even then some pharmacies are reluctant to fill such prescriptions because of the extra paperwork involved.

Despite this new restriction, you can probably find ways to use the money wisely. Here are a few ideas for spending any remaining money in your FSA account before the end of the year:

- Eye exams
- Glasses
- Contacts
- Contact lens disinfectant solution and saline
- Annual physical (the exam itself may be completely covered by your insurance, but additional blood work and tests that your doctor orders may not be)
- Co-payments for doctor visits
- Dental work (non-cosmetic)
- Orthodontic work
- Prescription refills

Take Advantage of Benefits That Will Disappear or Be Reduced In 2012
Read the packet of information your employer gave you for open enrollment season. Carefully review the information about your insurance benefits, and see if any benefits are being cut or reduced in 2012. If so, and if you will be affected by the changes, get the most out of your coverage now before the cost of your treatment goes up.

The Bottom Line
There are many ways of addressing medical and dental needs now, instead of waiting until next year that can save you money. Check with your insurer to see what benefits you've used, and what you still have available for the year. Also, check your FSA balance. Then make sure to take full advantage of your benefits before January 1. (For year-end moves you should make, see Smart Money Moves For The End Of The Year.)

Related Articles
  1. Personal Finance

    A Day in the Life of an Equity Research Analyst

    What does an equity research analyst do on an everyday basis?
  2. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: SPDR S&P Insurance

    Learn about the SPDR S&P Insurance exchange-traded fund, which follows the S&P Insurance Select Industry Index by investing in equities of U.S. insurers.
  3. Credit & Loans

    Can Corporate Credit Cards Affect Your Credit?

    Corporate cards have a hidden downside. If the company fails to pay its bills, you could be liable for the amount and end up with a damaged credit rating.
  4. Markets

    The 5 Biggest Canadian Insurance Companies

    Learn more about the insurance industry as a whole, how it functions in Canada, and the five largest Canada-based insurance companies.
  5. Entrepreneurship

    Millennials Guide: Freelancer vs. Employee

    How to decide if joining the gig economy is right for you.
  6. Retirement

    What Are the Risks to Your Retirement Security?

    One of the biggest risks to your retirement security is something you may take for granted: your health, and more specifically, health-care costs.
  7. Savings

    All About Income

    Income is the money you or a business earns by providing goods or services, or through investments.
  8. Investing

    Things Nursing Homes Are Not Allowed to Do

    What rights do a home's residents have? The same ones they they had before they entered the facility.
  9. Retirement

    How Much Medicaid and Medicare Cost Americans

    Medicaid & Medicare cost Americans plenty out of their paychecks. But how much, really? And what does that money buy?
  10. Insurance

    Healthcare Premiums Keep Rising, But Salaries Aren’t

    Learn how college and health insurance costs have skyrocketed while wages have stagnated, and how, given the necessity of these services, consumers are stuck.
  1. Indemnity

    Indemnity is compensation for damages or loss. Indemnity in the ...
  2. Auto Enrollment Plan

    An employer’s decision to sign employees up to have a percentage ...
  3. Net Collections

    A term used in medical accounting to describe the amount of money ...
  4. Corridor Deductible

    Expenses that are paid by the insured in excess of an insurance ...
  5. Insurance Consortium

    A group of businesses or organizations that join together to ...
  6. Back Pay

    The amount of salary and other benefits that an employee claims ...
  1. How do you rollover/transfer a 401(k) to another 401(k)?

    When an employee leaves a job due to retirement or termination, the question about what to do with the accumulated balance ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What happens if my insurance claim falls below the deductible level?

    Though the ins and outs of health insurance are often confusing, the concept of the insurance deductible is relatively straightforward. ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. How is the deductible I paid for my insurance claim treated for tax purposes?

    The deductible you pay on your health insurance policy may be tax-deductible if you meet certain conditions. However, whether ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What are the main factors that impact share prices in the insurance sector?

    The main factors that impact share prices in the insurance sector are interest rates, earnings and actuarial risk. In the ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Why do insurance policies have deductibles?

    Insurance policies have deductibles for behavioral and financial reasons. Moral Hazards Deductibles mitigate the behavioral ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Which emerging markets are seeing the strongest growth in the insurance sector?

    The emerging market economies seeing the strongest growth for the insurance sector are primarily the main emerging market ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center

You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!