Many people assume that Medicare will cover most, if not all, of their health care needs once they reach 65 years of age. Medicare, however, doesn’t cover everything, potentially leaving coverage gaps for routine foot care, most dental services (including dentures), eye exams and hearing aids (and fittings).
Other services and products are covered only after the individual has paid out-of-pocket fees. Some couples retiring in 2017 at age 65 will need more than $350,000 to fund health care costs during retirement — and that doesn’t even include long-term care costs.
Financial planners can help clients who have not reached this savings total — and those who have — to make the most of their out-of-pocket spending during retirement. As online tools for health research and e-commerce have evolved, consumers have more options than ever for finding and negotiating quality care at prices that meet their budget.
1. Skip unnecessary tests
At certain life stages, some preventive tests are not worth the time or money. After age 65, for example, women may choose to stop having cervical cancer screenings if they have had three negative Pap test results in a row or other indicators of low-to-no risk, according to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
In addition, a Harvard study showed that individuals who had colonoscopies after age 75 gained very little protection against colon cancer. Decisions to forego preventive screenings should be made in collaboration with a physician, but patients may need to be proactive and broach the subject.
2. Negotiate dental fees
Dental fees, like most services, can vary from one practice to another — and they’re often negotiable. To begin the process, retirees may research standard fees on fairhealthconsumer.org, a website developed by the not-for-profit organization FAIR Health. Users can search by ZIP code for standard pricing on X-rays, root canals, fillings, dental crowns and more. Some dentists will discount fees for cash payments or stagger appointments and payments over several months, if appropriate, for more extensive and expensive treatments.
Those who live near dental schools can receive quality care from students for a fraction of the standard cost. The Commission on Dental Accreditation provides a searchable database of dental and dental-related schools on its website, ada.org/en/coda.
3. Compare prices for other medical services
As with dental services, medical care costs — from MRIs to knee injections — varies from one facility to the next. The difference can total hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
To negotiate the best terms, consumers may use websites like clearhealthcosts.com or guroo.com to find typical pricing in their city or region. Armed with this data, they can shop among several physicians or facilities, asking for a deep discount in exchange for paying cash.
4. Collaborate with physicians to find cheaper medications
Prescription drugs are regulated. Pharmacy prices are not. The same medication may cost double or triple — or more — at one pharmacy compared with another. Patients should ask their physicians for less expensive generic versions of name-brand prescribed drugs. They should also ask if the dosage can be adjusted. In some cases, it makes much better financial sense to buy a supply of 40 mg pills and break them in half, rather than a supply of 20 mg pills.
5. Invest in prevention
After age 65, illness and injury can be delayed, minimized or prevented completely with good health habits. From keeping weight under control to exercising to maintain flexibility to removing tripping hazards from the house, an ounce of prevention can be worth thousands of dollars of cure.