By Nicole Duritz
How many of us are still sticking to our New Year’s resolutions to live healthier? I, for one, have good intentions, but I’ve been struggling to get to the gym as often as I want. What has motivated me recently is getting a greater understanding of how a healthier me can lead to big savings in health care costs.
AARP’s Health Care Costs Calculator can help you understand what your health care costs will be in retirement based on your medical conditions AND show you how getting certain conditions under control can affect your bottom line. Check it out at www.aarp.org/HCCC. In the meantime, here are 10 ways to start saving money on health care and expand your possibilities:
1. Ask about generic drugs. If your doctor prescribes a medication, ask if there’s a suitable generic alternative.The price is usually lower, as well as the copayment (how much you pay each time you fill the prescription). You can also use the Drug Savings Tool at www.aarp.org/drugsavings and do a quick search yourself to see if there is a less expensive but equally effective medication you can use.
2. Don't smoke. The costs associated with smoking go well beyond the price of a pack of cigarettes. Smokers pay more for health insurance coverage and we all pay for the health effects of both smoking and second-hand smoke. Each year, our economy takes a $289 billion hit in direct medical expenses and lost productivity. Find out how much kicking the habit can save you with AARP’s Health Care Cost Calculator, www.aarp.org/HCCC. Check out smoking cessation resources at BeTobaccoFree.gov.
3. Take advantage of wellness benefits. These days everyone has a growing interest in keeping you well rather than caring for you only when you are sick. For example, employers offer wellness benefits like health screenings or gym membership discounts. Find out what programs your employer offers. Similarly, Medicare provides a “Welcome to Medicare" preventive visit within the first 12 months you have Part B. You are also eligible to receive free yearly "Wellness" visits and many preventive screening services for free, such as flu shots and blood pressure screenings. Finally, check with your health insurance provider: they too might offer discounts and other wellness benefits.
4. Get recommended preventive screenings. Because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), most insurance plans now cover a wide range of immunizations and preventive screenings. For adults, these include colonoscopies (age 50 and over), diabetes and high blood pressure screenings, flu shots and more. You can find more information about the benefits and protections of the law at www.healthlawanswers.org.
5. Take your medications regularly. If you have a chronic condition, it’s important to take your medications exactly as prescribed. You can avoid costly hospital visits that often result from skipped doses. It’s also smart to keep an updated list of all the medications you take, including dietary and herbal supplements, and bring it to your doctors’ appointments. You may want to use the AARP Rx app and take advantage of the electronic or print medication record. Simply go to the App store on your device and download it for free.
6. Eat healthy and exercise. Eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise can improve your overall health, which will in turn improve your bottom line when it comes to health care expenses. Many chronic conditions can be managed or eliminated by eating better and becoming more physically active.
7. Stay in your plan’s network. Most health insurance plans offer in-network and out of network coverage. If you stay within the network of providers your plan offers, you can save big on out-of-pocket expenses.
8. Sign up for Medicare at the right time. If you are nearing Medicare eligibility, you have a seven-month window to sign up. This is the three months before your birth month, your actual birth month, and the three months that follow. During this time, you can call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213, go online at www.socialsecurity.gov/medicare or go to your local Social Security office to apply. If you miss this window, your monthly Medicare payments (your premiums) may be higher. For help from AARP on your Medicare questions, check out www.aarp.org/MedicareQA.
9. Check out programs that reduce health costs. If you get health coverage in the Health Insurance Marketplace, you might be eligible for help with your monthly insurance payments. You may qualify for lower out-of-pocket costs, too. Your eligibility depends on your annual income and family size. Find out more at www.healthlawanswers.org.
10. Review your health coverage every year. Your insurance coverage may change from one year to the next, so it’s important to review your coverage during your open enrollment period. Those changes can affect your monthly premiums, the services covered by your insurance, and the list of doctors that participate in the insurer’s network. Avoid costly surprises by reviewing your coverage every year.
Whether it’s small acts or big lifestyle changes, you can save thousands of dollars in health care costs in retirement by taking action today. Here’s to our health – and healthy cost savings!
Bonus Tip: Being a safe driver can save lives and dollars.
Did you know that you may be able to reduce your insurance costs by taking an AARP Driver Safety class? Find a class (available in English and Spanish) in your community using the course locator.
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Nicole Duritz is Vice President of the Health & Family issues team in the Education and Outreach group at AARP. She leads AARP’s educational and outreach efforts on health education issues, including Medicare, the health law, prescription drug affordability, long-term care, and prevention and wellness. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.