Lowering Your Medicare HealthCare Costs

The older you get, the more you pay for healthcare. That's true even when Medicare's safety net protects you. Here are some things you can do to save money on medical costs as you age.

piggy bank on money and stethoscope

Aging isn't cheap.

Sure, "senior discounts" abound after you turn a certain age, but so do increased healthcare expenses. And for most older Americans, the latter far outweigh the former.

In fact, a recent Fidelity Investment report estimates the average married couple spends at least $275,000 on medical costs after both spouses turn 65.

Why "at least"? Because that estimate doesn't include things like dental treatments, eye exams, glasses, hearing aids, or long-term care.

It does, however, include Medicare premiums, deductibles, copayments, and co-insurance costs. It also includes other out-of-pocket expenses, such as those related to prescription drugs. 

In other words, as great as Medicare is for many U.S. seniors, it's far from a "free pass." Enrollees are still responsible for a lot of healthcare bills.

They can reduce the size of some of those bills with a bit of savviness, though. Specifically, they--and you--can save money on rising medical costs as you age by doing some or all of the following things.

First, A Medicare Primer

Before we get to how you can cut your healthcare expenses after you turn 65, let's briefly cover some Medicare basics.

You already know about Medicare Part A and Part B, often called Original Medicare, right? And you probably know a little about Medicare Part D, or prescription drug coverage, too.

If you're unsure about any of those components, read our "Ultimate Guide to Medicare." It'll tell you everything you need to know about Parts A, B, D, and a whole lot more.

That article also explains products like Medicare Advantage (sometimes referred to as Medicare Part C) and Medicare Supplement insurance (aka MedSup or Medigap). And you can find even more information about them in our "Ultimate Guide to Medicare Advantage Plans" as well as in this article: "When Does it Make Sense to Get a Medicare Supplement Plan?"

Just want the CliffsNotes version? Medicare Advantage plans replace Medicare Parts A and B. They usually offer additional coverage, too, such as for prescription drugs. Oh, and private companies, rather than the U.S. government, provide them to Americans. As for MedSup policies, they mostly cover Medicare deductibles, copayments, and co-insurance costs.

The key takeaway here is you can save money on all of those Medicare plans, policies, and forms of coverage. And you can cut your healthcare costs in many other ways, too. Keep reading to learn how.

How to Lower Your Medicare Part A Costs

If you're like most Americans, you don't (or won't) pay a monthly premium for Medicare Part A.

You still have to deal with deductibles and co-insurance costs, however. In particular, you have to hit a $1,316 deductible before Part A helps pay for inpatient care you receive at a hospital or skilled-nursing facility (SNF). And you're responsible for certain co-insurance costs if your hospital or SNF stay lasts longer than a set number of days.

Your best bets for shaving a few bucks off your Medicare Part A expenses:

Switch to a Medicare Advantage plan. Doing this (during an enrollment period) can save you a bunch of money. If you join the right plan, that is. To ensure that, shop around. Thoroughly compare coverages and overall costs.

Get a MedSup (or Medigap) policy. It will help you pay your Part A deductible and co-insurance costs. It'll also help you pay hospital and SNF bills Part A won't cover. Doing your research here is important, too. There are a number of different MedSup plans, and how much you pay for one of them often differs from one insurance company to another.

To learn more about both of these offerings, read our article, "Understanding Your Medicare Coverage Options." Check out this one, too: "Is Medicare Enough? What’s Covered and What's Not Covered?"

Tips for Lowering Your Medicare Part B Costs

Most Americans who enroll in Medicare Part B pay a $134 monthly premium for it. (Some people pay more than that; others pay less.)

They also pay a yearly deductible of $183. After that, they pay 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount for:

  • most doctor visits and services
  • outpatient therapy
  • durable medical equipment

The advice shared earlier can help you save money on Medicare Part B expenses, too. Specifically, to cut some of those costs, switch to a Medicare Advantage plan or buy a MedSup policy.

If you decide to replace Original Medicare with Medicare Advantage, though, remember that you'll pay less if you go to an in-network doctor, specialist, lab, or hospital for care. (Assuming your plan is tied to a network, of course.)

A few other pointers that may lower your Medicare Part B costs:

Don't enroll in Part B if you have other options. If you're covered by a spouse's job-based health insurance, use it as long as you can. Doing so could save you a good bit of money.

If you don't have access to a spouse's health insurance, enroll in Part B as soon as you're able to do so. Otherwise, you'll likely pay a penalty. And not only that, but you'll pay a penalty for as long as Part B covers you.

Save Money on Medicare Part D Costs

As you probably already know, Original Medicare doesn't cover prescription drugs. For that, you need to join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. Or you need to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan that includes drug coverage.

Unfortunately, these plans differ wildly in terms of cost. And they differ wildly in terms of which drugs they cover and how fully (or not) they cover them, too.

Given that, if your goal is to lower your prescription drug expenses, your first step should be to compare plans. Do this even if you're happy with your current one. It might help you find a plan that costs less (or covers more of the drugs you need) than the one you have now. You don't even have to do all of the legwork on your own; the government's Medicare Plan Finder will do it for you.

On a related note, review your prescription drug coverage options every year in advance of open enrollment. These plans change all the time, so don't assume the one you joined in the past is the same today or will remain that way in the future. Shopping around in this way can save you a lot of money each year.

Some other steps you can take to reduce what you pay for prescription medications:

  • If you take brand-name medications, ask your doctor about switching to generics or other lower-cost alternatives.
  • Also ask your doctor for drug samples and coupons.
  • Contact or visit the websites of the companies that make your medications; some offer coupons or other kinds of discounts.
  • Use mail-order pharmacies instead of brick-and-mortar ones.
  • Search for pharmaceutical assistance or charitable programs that help people in need pay for prescriptions.

Finally, see if you're eligible for the Medicare Extra Help program. If you are, it'll help cover your Medicare drug plan’s monthly premiums, yearly deductibles, and prescription copays. For more information, go to medicare.gov. Apply at ssa.gov.

Also, learn more about Medicare prescription drug plans and coverage in this article: "Medicare Part D: Prescription drug benefits to people over the age of 65."

Lowering Dental Care Costs While on Medicare

Original Medicare doesn't cover most kinds of dental care. Medicare Part A pays for certain dental services you receive while you're in the hospital, but that's about it.

In other words, you're on your own for cleanings, fillings, and tooth extractions. You're also on your own for dentures, dental plates, or other dental devices.

Many Medicare Advantage plans cover these costs. Some marketplace or exchange plans do, too. Another option is to buy a stand-alone dental plan directly from an insurance company.

To get the best bang for your buck when it comes to dental insurance, do your homework. Look at a number of plans and then compare their costs to each other.

What can you do if dental coverage remains out of reach after all of that? Here are a couple of ways you can save on dental care anyway:

Go to a local dental or dental-hygiene school. Most provide various services and treatments to both adults and children for a fraction of what you'd pay if you went to a dentist's office.

Look for clinical trials in your area. This can be especially helpful if you need dentures or other dental devices.

Contact your state or local health department. They may be able to point you to reduced-cost dental services.

How to Cut Eye Care Expenses While Enrolled in Medicare

Medicare Part B covers some preventive and diagnostic eye exams, but it doesn't cover routine eye exams, glasses, or contact lenses.

If paying for them would be a struggle, consider doing the following:

See if you qualify for the American Academy of Ophthalmology's EyeCare America program. EyeCare America provides eye care to eligible seniors through a pool of nearly 6,000 volunteer ophthalmologists. Specifically, it provides them with free eye exams and up to one year of follow-up care for any condition diagnosed during the initial visit.

Hunt for discounts. Some groups and organizations give members discounts on contacts, glasses, and even eye exams. AAA, AARP, and Costco are just three examples.

Save Money on Hearing Care on Medicare

Perhaps unsurprisingly, neither Medicare Part A nor Part B cover routine hearing exams.

What kind of hearing care does Medicare Part B cover? It helps pay for diagnostic hearing or balance tests if a physician decides they're needed.

A bigger deal for most older Americans: Original Medicare doesn't cover hearing aids. That may explain the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders statistic that fewer than 30 percent of adults aged 70 and older who could benefit from hearing aids have ever used them.

Don't let Medicare's lack of coverage in this area keep you from scheduling a hearing exam or getting a hearing aid. Here are a few possible solutions:

Look into Medicare Advantage plans. Some, but not all, offer hearing coverage. You'll have to shop around to find the right policy, but doing so should save you money in the end.

Check out Hear Now. This program, started by the Starkey Hearing Foundation, provides digital hearing aids to low-income Americans. For more information, visit starkeyhearingfoundation.org/hear-now.

Apply to the Help America Hear program. Supported by the Foundation For Sight and Sound, Help America Hear provides hearing aids to people with limited financial resources.

For even more tips on how you can save money on hearing, vision, and dental care while enrolled in Medicare, read our article, "Dental, Vision, and Hearing Care with Medicare."

Tips for Lowering Medicare Advantage Costs

The thing to remember about Medicare Advantage plans is there are a lot of them. (The same is true of Medicare prescription drug plans and MedSup plans, by the way.)

Because of that, you're nearly always going to be rewarded--in the form of cost savings--if you shop around and compare a number of plans.

Before you pick up the phone or hit Google, though, answer these questions:

  • How much did you spend on health and medical expenses over the last couple of years?
  • How much did you spend on prescription drugs in that time?
  • Will you need to take those same drugs over the next few years?
  • Do you have a family history of any diseases or medical conditions?

Your answers to those questions will give you an idea as to how much you might spend on healthcare in the coming years. Use that information to determine which Medicare Advantage plan will best cover those expenses while charging you the least amount of money.

Reducing Medicare Supplement Costs

Doing your homework and shopping around benefits you when you go to buy Medicare Supplement insurance, or MedSup, too.

That probably sounds strange to anyone who knows a bit about MedSup policies. After all, every MedSup or Medigap plan with the same letter designation (there are 10) provides the same coverage. How much each insurance company charges for them can vary a great deal, however.

For example, a Weiss Ratings report found that a 65-year-old man could pay anywhere from $1,092 to $6,519 in 2016 for the most popular MedSup plan depending on where he bought it.

So, don't just go with the first MedSup policy you come across. Take your time and thoroughly research your options. Make sure the plan you end up with is the one that'll provide you the supplement coverage you need for best possible price.

Want to learn more about MedSup policies? Read through this Medigap/Medicare Supplement Insurance Policy FAQ.


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