One big misconception about Medicare is that it provides free health coverage for enrollees. The reality is that there are many costs seniors routinely face under Medicare, and those costs can climb from year to year.

For one thing, Medicare Part B charges a monthly premium that's risen consistently through the years and jumped substantially in 2022. There are also deductibles, copays, and other costs to grapple with once enrolled in Medicare, such as having to pay out of pocket for non-covered services.

As such, it's not shocking to learn that seniors are having a harder time keeping up with their costs. A recent survey reveals that 18% of seniors think affording healthcare expenses will be very difficult in 2022. Meanwhile, 42% say it will be somewhat difficult.

A person looking at a table filled with pills.

Image source: Getty Images.

Now to be fair, the survey only included 1,250 Medicare enrollees, which is hardly a large sample set in the grand scheme of country's senior population. However, it's fair to assume that healthcare costs are burdensome for many retirees, particularly those who get most or all of their income from Social Security.

If you're worried about affording healthcare as a senior, there's one important move worth making during your working years. And the sooner you do, the easier those expenses might become down the line.

Save for healthcare now, stress less later

You can easily pad your IRA or 401(k) plan so you have more money to pay for medical costs as a senior. But another option worth exploring is funding a health savings account, or HSA.

Not everyone is eligible for one of these accounts. To contribute, you must be enrolled in a qualifying high-deductible health insurance plan. But if you are eligible to fund an HSA, it pays to max out your contributions and carry that money with you into retirement -- which is more than feasible, since HSA funds never expire.

HSAs offer a host of tax benefits for savers. Contributions go in tax-free, money that's not withdrawn for immediate healthcare costs can be invested tax-free, and withdrawals are tax-free when used for eligible medical expenses. And so if you fund an HSA during your working years and reserve that money for retirement, it could make it a lot easier to cover your healthcare expenses at a time when money may be tighter.

As is the case with IRAs and 401(k)s, HSA contribution limits can change from one year to the next. In 2022, contributions max out at $3,650 if you're saving as an individual or $7,300 if you're saving at the family level. If you're 55 or older, you can make an additional $1,000 contribution on top of whichever limit applies to you.

Now one thing you should know is that once you sign up for Medicare, you can no longer contribute to an HSA. But you can use HSA funds to pay for Medicare expenses, from premiums to deductibles to copays.

Unfortunately, healthcare expenses are more likely than not to rise over time. Taking full advantage of an HSA could be your ticket to avoiding financial stress in retirement -- and helping to ensure that you don't need to skimp on medical care later in life.