There’s little debate about the big “gotcha” in retirement – it’s medical expenses. It’s the wild card that will wreck a retirement plan in a heart beat.
Here’s how to cut your costs.
Stay on top of your health
Get a full health assessment by your primary care doctor and follow what is needed to manage any chronic illnesses. If you have none, then know the risk factors for getting them and avoid those. In either case, know the red flags that suggest you need to get some help, says Mark Meiners, Ph.D, professor of health administration and policy at George Mason University.
Be a savvy shopper
Be open to changing insurance companies every 2-5 years. New members often get lower rates. Existing members often pay more each year they stay in the same plan, says Josh Berg, an agent with the Senior Resource Group, a provider of senior living communities.
Likewise, Ross Blair, CEO of www.PlanPrescriber.com, says more than 90 percent of seniors are leaving money on the table. According to PlanPrescriber’s research, seniors who switched plans to the lowest total out of pocket costs could save $546 a year in their stand alone Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. “It’s absolutely critical that you review your Medicare coverage annually because the plans, what they cost, and what they cover, can and often do, change on a yearly basis. Many times seniors tolerate rising costs because they think they have no options, when that in fact, is not the case,” says Blair. Only 10 percent of seniors surveyed by PlanPrescriber changed their drug coverage each year, yet less than 10 percent are in a drug plan with the lowest total out of pocket costs. Shop around.
Develop a strong understanding of your insurance’s benefits and associated costs, such as premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and what’s not covered, for example.
Know how to use the health and social services systems so that you can take advantage of any free or low-cost services if needed. It also won’t hurt to have a health insurance agent review your specific situation to assess needs, benefits and eligibility for cost-sharing programs, points out Berg.
Switch from brand name prescription drugs to generics if your doctor gives you the go-ahead.
Be good to yourself
There are few guarantees in life, good health isn’t one of them. But, you can do your best to give your body a fighting chance by doing your part. Stay as healthy as possible by eating smart, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and staying engaged, says Meiners.
Pay much attention to what you eat. Maybe you could eat what you wanted in your 20s, those days are gone. Too much weight at this stage of life, ups the ante for health problems. Susan Schenck, author of Beyond Broccoli: Creating a Biologically Balanced Diet When a Vegetarian Diet Doesn’t Work is big on a high raw food diet, which she says studies have proven the healthy benefits of, and that it has the ability to reverse disease. She also recommends periodic fasts, such as one day a week or a three-[day period every month. “This is a proven method to allow your body to ‘reboot’ itself, do ‘house cleaning’ and repairs,” says Schenck.
Stay engaged. Volunteer. Find ways to share your knowledge and wisdom. Make a difference.
Keep an open mind
Schenck advocates for using natural remedies such as acupuncture, herbs and nutritional supplements. “They are not only less expensive than drugs and surgeries, but don’t have the side effects. Stop looking for the ‘quick fix’ and take responsibility for your health, letting your body heal itself slowly, but surely, as nature intended.”
Much as you might think it’s gauche, consider negotiating. Your doctor wants to get paid as quickly as possible. Sometimes, if you pony up cash immediately, you might get a certain percentage discount. It’s smart too, to do your research about what services cost. If you have the information to show that your bill is higher than is typical, they might blink and reduce your bill.