Tips for seniors on managing health care costs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 29, 2012

(BPT) – – Finding the Medicare coverage that best fits their needs and their pocketbooks is challenging for many seniors. Health care plans make changes to their coverage. People’s health conditions change. Not keeping on top of these changes can mean problems. Suddenly seniors may find they don’t have needed coverage, their doctor no longer takes their plan, or they face steep medical or prescription drug costs.

That’s why it’s essential to review Medicare coverage and individual needs each year, and to use the Medicare annual open enrollment period to make changes to coverage. Medicare annual open enrollment runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, with new benefit choices effective the following Jan. 1.

“Getting started early is key,” says Mary Dale Walters, senior vice president of the Allsup Medicare Advisor, a Medicare plan selection service. “Choosing Medicare coverage is complicated, even when you have lots of information on the Web. It can be difficult to get current plan information and to get an apples-to-apples comparison of plans.”

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Walters offers these tips for seniors to manage and lower their health care costs.

1. Be an informed consumer. Millions of seniors, their families and caregivers will be pleased to know that for the third straight year the average basic Medicare prescription drug premiums will remain steady.

Since enacted, the Affordable Care Act has helped more than 5.4 million people with Medicare save more than $4.1 billion in out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses. These are significant results as the law closes the Medicare Part D donut hole coverage gap, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Seniors can capitalize on those savings by knowing exactly what they are paying for — shop around for better prescription prices and ask about costs. For additional savings, use generic medications. Take advantage of Medicare preventive services, including many types of screenings, tests, shots, counseling, training and supplies now offered without co-pays or other out-of-pocket costs.

2. Ask for help. In addition to guidance on retirement, estate and long-term care planning, seniors can rely on professionals to help them with health care choices. Walters points out this can include Medicare specialists such as Allsup or financial planners who often consult Medicare experts.

“Health care planning is a quality of life and a financial issue,” Walters says. “If you need assistance sorting through the overwhelming number of options, it’ s important to know that help is out there for you — don’t be afraid to ask.”

Grace Hercules used Allsup to research her Medicare needs and found she could save more than $1,000 a year by switching drug plans. “I thought a mail-order prescription plan was best for me, but their specialists proved me wrong about this — and I am so happy,” she says.

“People can probably do their own taxes, but when they pay a tax adviser they get better returns,” Hercules adds. “It’s getting the mindset that good help is available. It’s really worth getting expert help and not having the aggravation.”

3. Be proactive. Having known and been around seniors, Hercules says she is saddened that so many settle for high costs or keep the same Medicare plan year after year because of a lack of understanding.

Just as seniors review their finances or taxes each year, Medicare annual enrollment is the ideal time to review health care coverage, Walters says. “It’s OK to admit it’s confusing and that help will be valuable. Look at all your Medicare options and take charge of your health care.”

In addition to annual Medicare enrollment, special enrollment periods happen throughout the year for specific situations. For an evaluation of Medicare options, call an Allsup Medicare Advisor specialist at 866-521-7655, or go to