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The Trick to Getting a Gym Membership for Practically Free
Looking for an ultra-affordable gym membership? Your health insurance can help you save major money.
Giselle Castro-SlobodaFitness and Nutrition Writer
I'm a Fitness & Nutrition writer for CNET who enjoys reviewing the latest fitness gadgets, testing out activewear and sneakers, as well as debunking wellness myths. On my spare time I enjoy cooking new recipes, going for a scenic run, hitting the weight room, or binge-watching many TV shows at once. I am a former personal trainer and still enjoy learning and brushing up on my training knowledge from time to time. I've had my wellness and lifestyle content published in various online publications such as: Women's Health, Shape, Healthline, Popsugar and more.
Joining a gym and maintaining your membership can involve some hefty costs, but there's good news: If you have health insurance, you may be able to get a free or greatly reduced gym membership. With more and more people looking to improve their health by staying active, many health insurance companies are catching on and giving the people what they want.
Whether you have health insurance or you're shopping around for the right package, make sure you read the summary of benefits and coverage (also known as SBC). Michael Orefice, senior vice president of Operations at SmartFinancial, told CNET the SBC outlines each health plan's costs and coverage. "If certain self-care perks are not specifically listed as covered or excluded benefits, ask your provider for more information," he suggests.
You'd be surprised at the broad range of complimentary benefits your insurance may provide. These could include massage therapy and acupuncture along with other services. The only thing you may be limited to is seeking treatment within your network, and there may be a cap on the number of treatments you receive per year.
In the case of gym memberships, Orefice said your health insurance most likely won't foot the whole bill, but your health plan may qualify you for reduced rates for gym memberships, fitness gear and even online classes. "Be sure you review your current health insurance plan to see what self-care perks are available to you, but if you are not satisfied with these benefits, be sure to shop for a policy that better fits your needs," he advised.
Additionally, don't automatically assume that your insurance won't cover the cost of a specific benefit. Putting in the effort to sift through various insurance plans can make a difference in helping you get closer to achieving your health goals. Orefice recommends thoroughly researching each plan's coverage because there may be unique benefits you automatically thought would be out-of-pocket costs. "The payoff for a little time and effort can improve your overall quality of life," he says.
Use your flex spending account
When you get your health insurance through an employer, you usually have a Flexible Spending Account option. An FSA is a tax-free account where you put aside a certain amount of money to help pay for any out-of-pocket health-related expenses. Usually an FSA can help you pay for prescribed medications, certain medical procedures, co-pays, some drugstore items and, yes, even your gym membership. However, there's a catch. "If a certain benefit is not specifically listed, the expense may still qualify for reimbursement if it's medically necessary," explained Orefice.
To get the expense approved you will need your physician to sign a letter of medical necessity explaining why the treatment is needed. It's important to share a copy of this letter with your FSA provider, otherwise your claim will be denied when you submit it. In the case of a gym membership, having a doctor's note explaining that you need physical activity for a specific medical reason will improve the chances of your health plan reimbursing you for the cost of the membership.
Look for gyms affiliated with your health insurance
Often, your health insurance provider will have ties to certain gym franchises. "Insurance companies have a great incentive to help you afford your gym membership," said Anthony Martin, founder and CEO of Choice Mutual. This is because it costs less to help keep you healthy now than it does to pay for treatment if you're unwell later. As a result, more insurance companies are increasingly including some form of fitness membership coverage.
"Some providers have partnered with various gyms and fitness centers to offer discounted rates for clients," Martin said. Keep in mind these benefits are usually limited to a select number of studios, and will vary depending on your location and plan type.
If you're an older adult, you should look at your Medicare Advantage plans and some Medicare Supplement Insurance plans. "Many now include memberships to SilverSneakers or other similar programs as an added perk to beneficiaries," said Christian Worstell, a senior staff writer at Healthadvisor.com and health insurance agent. He continued, "SilverSneakers includes a basic gym membership along with a health and fitness program that is designed specifically for older adults that includes various workouts, activities and education." The plus side is that it's usually free if it's included in your Medicare plan.
Check for a reimbursement option
If your insurance provider doesn't have an affiliation with a gym chain or you can't use your FSA, you can also look into whether or not your provider can refund you for some of the cost. I used to have a health insurance plan that would pay for half of my monthly gym membership dues and even though it wasn't fully covered, it still helped financially.
"Many health insurance providers offer a full or partial reimbursement for gym membership fees, though there are usually a few requirements that must be met," said Martin. In some cases, providers may require a log of your gym visits that show you're using the membership before reimbursing you a portion of your gym fees. Others may have a waiting period of a few months before you are eligible for the reimbursement.
Watch this: How Healthy is Your Heart, Really? 5 Ways to Tell at Home
Looking at health insurance documents can seem daunting because it seems like you're reading a bunch of jargon. But taking a deep dive into your plan or options can open your eyes as to what services you may be eligible for for free or at a discounted rate. If a gym membership is a priority, it's helpful to know that there are ways that your health insurance can help with those expenses.
If you're still uncertain after reviewing the fine print, don't be afraid to reach out to your insurance company and ask. The last thing you want to do is miss out on these opportunities that can save you a lot of money on a monthly and annual basis.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.