It’s no secret that healthcare costs in America are on the rise – so much so that the price tag for health-related expenses now makes up 17 percent of the entire U.S. gross domestic product. With so much money on the line, managing our own healthcare expense is critical, especially for the 58 million Americans who are enrolled in Medicare.
Any program that affects 1 in 5 of our citizens, like Medicare does, ought to demand special attention if enrollees want to minimize costs and maximize benefits. That’s why our eye was drawn to this just-published article on the popular financial website Motley Fool called “5 Ways to Maximize Your Medicare.” The article says that “These five ways to maximize your Medicare can help you keep costs down while getting good care. They might even help you live longer and better.” Any article that promises results like that is worth bringing to the attention of our AgingOptions radio listeners – although there are a few caveats we’ll mention at the end.
The first suggestion from Motley Fool seems to be the most basic, but many seniors overlook it – with consequences that can turn out to be expensive. The first way to maximize your Medicare benefits and minimize your costs is simply to enroll on time. “If you’re late enrolling in Medicare,” warns Motley Fool, “your part B premiums (which cover medical services, but not hospital services) can rise by 10 percent for each year that you were eligible for Medicare and didn’t enroll. Yikes!” We say “yikes indeed.” Put off enrollment for three years, for instance, and you could see a 30 percent Part B premium hike. The law says the time to enroll (and to avoid a penalty) is any time within three months before your 65th birthday or within the three months immediately following. But there are a few exceptions to this “must-enroll” rule: first, if you’re already drawing Social Security benefits at age 65, you will likely be enrolled in Medicare automatically. Second, if you’re still working and receiving an employer’s health benefits, you can generally qualify for a waiver. We urge you to contact us at AgingOptions if you’re not 100 percent clear about your situation and we’ll get you the information you need.
The second point of the Motley Fool article is to choose wisely between original Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans. Original Medicare, sometimes referred to as traditional Medicare, includes Part A (covering hospital expenses) and Part B (for medical expenses). Part D, which many enrollees add, covers prescription drugs. The alternative to these three “parts” is to buy what is called a Medicare Advantage Plan, offered by private insurers. The “advantage” to these Medicare Advantage plans is generally better benefits at lower cost. The downside: most private plans limit your choice of physicians, although many Medicare Advantage networks are pretty large (and just to add to the confusion, some clinics and other providers only accept Medicare Advantage and not traditional Medicare). The Motley Fool article contains much more comparative information that will influence your decision, and there are some excellent online tools to help you buy wisely. (Click on this link to access the government’s Medicare Plan Finder to help you compare plans side by side and evaluate your options.)
Here are three more ways to maximize your Medicare, according to Motley Fool – suggestions that will help you once your coverage has begun:
- Get screened – most Medicare plans offer a wide range of health care screenings at no out of pocket cost. Take advantage of them! Screening tests and other free services generally covered under Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans include alcohol counseling, screening for cardiovascular disease, flu shots, mammograms and smoking-cessation programs, plus dozens of others. Discover health problems early and treatment is often simpler, more successful and far less invasive.
- Use telehealth services – If you’ve ever used Skype or another similar video connection, telehealth should feel familiar. These services, offered by many plans, allow patients to consult with doctors and other healthcare professionals electronically, often via a Skype-like video connection. Telehealth consultations save time and money, and keep you from driving to the doctor’s office and spending hours reading magazines in a waiting room. Scheduling a teleconsultation often takes hours instead of days or weeks.
- Take advantage of wellness benefits under your plan – The best way to get healthy is generally to stay healthy, and that’s why your plan’s wellness benefits are so important. Instead of seeing your doctor when you’re sick, a wellness visit, says Motley Fool, “gives your doctor a chance to discuss ways to get you healthier instead of just ways to treat the illness or injury you walked in with.” One of the benefits we talked about recently on the AgingOptions radio program includes discounted (or even free) gym membership – another wellness perk in many plans. Wellness benefits should become part of your Medicare plan evaluation process.
In our view this article, while helpfully addressing some common Medicare-related issues, misses one of the most important points. As Rajiv Nagaich says, “Insurance should be there to allow you to access care through the providers you choose – not providers chosen for you by the insurance carrier.” Rajiv also emphasizes the need for insurance to cover preventive care, not merely acute care. “This means that you should be able to gain access to nutritionists and geriatric specialists, plus benefits like gym membership, without having to jump through complicated hoops. You have to do your homework before you ever settle on a medical policy!”
Helping you make wise choices in retirement is what we’re all about at AgingOptions. If you know where you want to go and how you want to live in retirement, planning for your future becomes less complicated – if you have the right guide to help you. At AgingOptions we’ll work with you to craft a comprehensive retirement plan called a LifePlan, a retirement strategy in which all the key elements of retirement fit together: financial, health, legal, housing and family. The very best way to learn more about this holistic approach to retirement is by attending a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar, offered at locations throughout the Puget Sound area. We invite you to join us! Click here for all the seminar dates, times and locations in the next few weeks, then register online. Or if you prefer, give us a call during the week. It will be our pleasure to answer your questions and to help you see how an AgingOptions LifePlan will be the perfect solution to your retirement dreams.
(originally reported at www.fool.com)