Photo: Sean Lee Davies
As we eat, drink, and make merry this season, I propose a toast to our health. No, I'm not stealing Dr. Oz's thunder: Physical well-being is also a financial blessing. For starters, medical care costs money—so it pays to keep the doctor away. When it comes to life insurance, individual premiums are lower for fit people and nonsmokers than for couch potatoes and those who light up. Plus, healthier folks are less likely to have to retire early—which can give them the flexibility to wait and claim a bigger Social Security benefit, not to mention more substantial IRA or 401(k) savings. (Half of current retirees report that they stopped working sooner than expected, and the most common reason is poor health.)
What else is good for you, physically and financially? A smart insurance strategy. This is the season to check your coverage: At the end of the calendar year, many companies offer open enrollment for healthcare—a chance to switch providers or opt into a savings plan. Even if you don't have employer coverage, review your family's past year of medical expenses and consider your needs going forward. With healthcare costs expected to rise 7.5 percent in 2013—which will likely translate into higher premiums, deductibles, and co-pays all around—it makes good sense to plan ahead.
Here are a few tips to help you find cost-effective coverage (plus some budget-saving strategies for your holiday spending, below). It's the best gift you can give or receive.
Do. Not. Go. Uncovered.
Because the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate of the healthcare reform law, starting in 2014 there will be a penalty for those without health insurance. But that doesn't mean you should spend 2013 without coverage: It's lunacy to risk being struck by illness or injury and having to pay tens of thousands of dollars for medical bills out of pocket. If you're younger than 26, your parents can add you to their plan. If you're self-employed or your employer doesn't offer coverage, shop for it at Healthcare.gov or EHealthInsurance.com.
Next: Do you need a low or high-deductible plan?