Many seniors who enroll in Medicare are shocked to learn that it's far from free. In fact, there are many out-of-pocket costs you'll incur on Medicare, from premiums to deductibles to copays, which can really put a strain on your retirement budget.
The good news? With a few strategic moves, you can slash your spending, preserve your savings, and eliminate one major source of financial worry. Here are a few easy ways to keep your Medicare costs to a minimum.
1. Sign up on time
You're entitled to Medicare coverage at age 65, and your initial enrollment window begins three months before the month of your 65th birthday and ends three months after that month. If you don't sign up for Medicare on time, you'll not only risk a gap in coverage, but also potentially end up paying more for Part B, which covers outpatient care. Specifically, you'll face a 10% surcharge on your Part B premiums for each yearlong period you were eligible for coverage but failed to enroll.
2. Shop around during annual open enrollment
Each year, Medicare beneficiaries have the option to change their Part D drug plans or Medicare Advantage plans during open enrollment, which runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. Be sure to explore your plan choices during that time because you may find that there's a cheaper option than what you're currently paying for. Also, both Part D plans and Advantage plans can change from year to year, so it's important to compare your costs and coverage to what's out there to make sure you're getting the best deal, given your specific medications and needs.
3. Take advantage of the free care you're entitled to
As a Medicare enrollee, you're entitled to a host of free health services that it pays to capitalize on. In addition to an annual wellness checkup, you're eligible for no-cost benefits such as alcohol counseling, depression screenings, flu shots, and other necessary diagnostic tests. It pays to take advantage of these free benefits because catching health problems early on could spare you more expensive healthcare bills down the line.
4. Look at Medicare Advantage
The one downside of Medicare Advantage is that it limits you to a specific network of providers. But from a cost perspective, you may find that you're able to save a lot of money by switching from original Medicare to an Advantage plan.
Some Advantage plans charge a $0 premium, so there could be some savings in that regard (though you'll still need to pay your Part B premiums even if you're enrolled in Medicare Advantage). But just as importantly, Medicare Advantage covers a number of important health services that original Medicare does not.
For example, each time you visit the dentist for a routine cleaning as an original Medicare enrollee, you'll need to pay for that care in full, since original Medicare won't. But many Advantage plans cover dental care, as well as vision exams and hearing aids -- two other essential services original Medicare won't pay for.
Some Medicare Advantage plans also offer additional benefits that original Medicare doesn't provide, like gym memberships, non-emergency transportation to medical appointments, and meal delivery, depending on your needs. It therefore pays to explore your choices for Advantage plans during open enrollment.
While many seniors find that their living expenses generally go down in retirement, healthcare is the one expense that often climbs from year to year. These moves will help you spend less money in that regard, all the while allowing you to properly care for your health at a time in life when that's such an important thing to do.