Do you spend your Sunday mornings scouring the newspaper inserts for coupons at the local grocery store? Make it a point to confirm AAA and AARP discounts when booking hotel reservations? Love getting the senior discount at the movie theater?
If any of these sound familiar, you probably consider yourself a savvy consumer who likes to make sure you’re getting the most value for your money. But have you ever stopped to consider if you’re applying those same consumer skills to your Medicare benefits? If not, it’s high time you start.
And there’s an extra upside to maximizing your Medicare benefits, beyond just saving money. It could help improve your health as well.
Here are five tips to ensure you’re getting the most out of your Medicare coverage.
Tip 1: Understand Medicare’s preventive care benefits — and take advantage of them.
Original Medicare (Parts A and B) covers an annual wellness visit as well as some preventive screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies. These kinds of services can help catch health problems early, when they’re usually easier to treat. And your annual wellness checkup is a good opportunity to sit down with your doctor and develop a plan to help you achieve your best health in the year ahead.
In addition to services covered under Original Medicare, many Medicare Advantage plans provide additional benefits, such as a full annual physical as well as dental, hearing and vision coverage. And some plans will even bring preventive care right into your living room through in-home care or telemedicine appointments. These services let you address minor health concerns through a video chat with a doctor or nurse.
Tip 2: Plan yearly health care expenses with the out-of-pocket maximum in mind.
Medicare costs vary widely for individuals based on their situation and the type of coverage they have.
Original Medicare generally covers 80 percent of a person’s Part B expenses, which include services such as doctor visits and lab tests. The individual is responsible for the other 20 percent, with no annual limit on out-of-pocket costs.
Unlike Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage plans offer predictable co-pays and also cap your annual out-of-pocket expenses. Once you reach the out-of-pocket max set by your plan, all additional costs for Medicare-covered services for the rest of the year are covered 100 percent.
That cap can mean peace of mind if you have an unexpected illness or if you’re planning to undergo a major medical procedure.
Tip 3: Take advantage of cost savings on prescription drugs.
Prescription drug coverage isn’t included with Original Medicare (Parts A and B), so most beneficiaries opt to get their drugs covered either through a Medicare Advantage plan, since most of these plans include drug coverage, or a stand-alone Part D plan.
Using home delivery pharmacy benefits can be one way to save money — not to mention trips to the pharmacy. With some home delivery pharmacies you can order a three-month supply of medication for a lower cost than you would pay if you got the same supply at a local drug store.
If you prefer to pick up your drugs at a retail pharmacy, check to see if your plan has a preferred pharmacy network. Plan members can usually pay a lower co-pay for their drugs when they use a pharmacy that’s part of the preferred network.
Switching to an alternative drug that’s cheaper than a drug you’re currently taking can be another way to save on your drug costs. To see if this is an option for you, ask your doctor if there’s a generic drug or a drug on a lower tier of your plan’s formulary (your plan’s list of covered drugs) that could work just as well for you.
Tip 4: Stay in-network as much as possible.
Most Medicare Advantage plans work with a network of doctors and hospitals to coordinate their members’ care. Plans negotiate lower reimbursement rates with the doctors and hospitals in their network, which means members pay a lower cost when they access care. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer out-of-network coverage, but your costs for your care are usually higher. So staying in-network when you need care is one of the best things you can do to manage your health care costs.
Tip 5: Look for extra plan discounts on everyday health care items and services.
Medicare Advantage enrollees can rack up savings by taking advantage of discounts their plan offers on things they already use or need, such as vitamins, hearing aids, gym memberships and alternative medicine services such as acupuncture.
Original Medicare doesn’t cover the cost of hearing aids, so choosing a Medicare Advantage plan with hearing aid benefits could save you thousands of dollars a year. And saving money on your daily vitamins and a membership to your local fitness center could be the extra motivation you need to stick to a healthy lifestyle.
The bottom line
Following these tips to get the most out of your Medicare plan could be doubly rewarding — more money in your wallet and better health to help you enjoy your life.
Plans are insured through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or one of its affiliated companies. For Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plans: A Medicare Advantage organization with a Medicare contract and a Medicare-approved Part D sponsor. Enrollment in these plans depends on the plan’s contract renewal with Medicare.