While we have to save for the bulk of our retirement expenses on our own, most of us can look forward to some government assistance in the form of Social Security and Medicare. These retirement staples have helped seniors cover their expenses for decades. But they're not enough to retire on. Below, we'll look at why, and what you can do about it.

Medicare has a lot of gaps

Medicare is government-funded health insurance available to adults 65 and older. Original Medicare -- Parts A and B -- pays for hospital stays and doctor visits. You can also add prescription drug coverage, which is known as Medicare Part D. But nowhere in Original Medicare's terms will you find coverage for dental or vision care, hearing aids, or long-term care. Seniors must find their own way to pay for these things.

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In addition, Medicare has deductibles, copays, and premiums, just like private health insurance. So even those who are on Medicare will still need personal savings to help cover these expenses. 

The average 65-year-old couple retiring in 2022 will need about $315,000, after tax, to cover their out-of-pocket retirement healthcare expenses, according to Fidelity. And that estimate also doesn't include things like dental expenses or long-term care.

Social Security's heading for a shortfall

Social Security's funding crisis isn't new, but it's becoming a more pressing concern, with the latest estimates suggesting its trust funds will be depleted by 2035. That doesn't mean the program is going away. The bulk of its funding comes from the Social Security taxes we all pay on our income each year. But that revenue isn't enough to pay for all the benefits Americans are eligible for.

Once the trust funds are depleted, the Social Security Administration will only be able to pay out about 80% of scheduled benefits. The government may come up with some sort of solution before this happens, but if not, benefit cuts are a possibility. That's tough to hear, considering Social Security already doesn't go far enough to cover most people's monthly costs.

What you can do

We can't rewrite the rules of these government programs, but there are still things we can do to fill the gaps Medicare and Social Security leave in our retirement plan. The most important thing you can do is prioritize retirement savings at every stage of your life. Even when you're young, it's important to make regular monthly contributions so you can build up the nest egg you'll have to rely upon when you're retired.

You may also want to explore other health insurance options. You can purchase supplemental coverage from private insurers to pay what Medicare doesn't. You could also consider a Medicare Advantage plan. This covers all the same things as Original Medicare, along with some extras, so you'll only have one monthly bill to worry about. You can find one of these using the Plan Finder tool on Medicare's website.

As for Social Security, you can try to boost your income today in order to help your checks tomorrow. But you should also think about your claiming strategy. The age you sign up at significantly affects the size of the checks you receive. 

If you want the benefit you've earned based on your work history, you must wait until your full retirement age (FRA) to claim. That's anywhere from 66 to 67, depending on your birth year. Claiming earlier than this means more years of checks, but each one is smaller. You can also delay benefits until 70 and your checks will grow a little each month. 

The right claiming age depends on your life expectancy and your financial situation. Typically, those with short life expectancies sign up as soon as they become eligible at 62. So do many who live into their 80s or beyond, either by choice or because they need help paying their bills, though they could probably get a larger lifetime benefit by delaying Social Security.

It's a good idea to start thinking about these things now, even if you're a long way from retiring. But be willing to adapt. Social Security could see some changes in the next few years, and your own plans for retirement could change as well. When these changes arise, review your retirement plan and adjust it as necessary.