While many older Americans see certain costs go down once they stop working, one expense that tends to increase across the board in retirement is healthcare. That's why it's important to take advantage of the Medicare benefits available to you. Here are a few important places to start.
1. Enroll on time
Signing up for Medicare on time doesn't just ensure that you're covered for medical issues that might arise; it also affords you a lower premium. Once you become eligible to enroll in Medicare, you're given a seven-month window to sign up for Parts A and B. This initial enrollment period begins three months before the month you turn 65 and ends three months after the month you turn 65. If you fail to enroll during this time frame, you can still sign up during the general enrollment period that runs from Jan. 1 through March 31 each year. However, your Part B premium could go up 10% for every 12-month period you were eligible for Medicare but didn't enroll. Also, don't assume that you'll be enrolled in Medicare automatically if you're already getting Social Security. Though this is generally the case, it isn't a given.
2. Review your prescription drug needs
Parts A and B of Medicare don't apply to prescription drugs, so it will be up to you to choose a Part D plan that offers coverage for medication. Because the costs and benefits of Part D plans can vary significantly, you'll need to take a look at the medications you're on (or expect to be on) and see what coverage for those drugs looks like under the plans you're considering. A higher Part D premium might actually save you money in the long run by offering better prescription coverage.
3. Look into Medicare Advantage
Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private insurers and come with their own benefits, premiums, and deductibles, but one good thing about them is that they're required to match the coverage of Medicare Parts A and B. Many Medicare Advantage plans offer additional perks, like dental care and vision coverage. But a key benefit of Medicare Advantage is that it caps your out-of-pocket liability for healthcare services -- which Medicare Parts A and B do not. Currently, Medicare Advantage plans must limit participants' out-of-pocket expenses for services covered under Parts A and B to $6,700 a year , which is better than the limitless alternative you could be subject to under traditional Medicare alone. Furthermore, though traditional Medicare doesn't cover gym memberships or fitness programs, some Medicare Advantage plans offer benefits like wellness coaches or reduced gym membership rates.
4. Get your free preventative services
Medicare offers a number of no-cost preventative care services, from wellness visits to depression screenings to diabetes management services. Women are also eligible for free annual mammograms. It pays to take advantage of these services, especially because doing so could help you identify and address brewing healthcare issues before they get worse. And dealing with medical problems sooner rather than later isn't just better for your health; it can also save you money. You can review this guide (link opens PDF) for a comprehensive list of preventative services that are typically free for Medicare enrollees.
5. Take advantage of telehealth services
Traveling to and from doctors' offices can be stressful and physically taxing for some seniors. Medicare's telehealth services make it easy for enrollees to obtain medical advice without having to worry about seeing healthcare professionals in person. Participants can consult with providers electronically from the comfort of home, which can be a huge money-saver for those who rely on car or taxi services to get around. Not only is this option more convenient, but it can help you avoid delays in getting the care you need.
Healthcare is a major expense and concern for the vast majority of retirees. Follow these steps to maximize your Medicare, and you'll be doing your part to protect your finances as well as your health.