It’s only natural to fantasize about retirement and make plans to finally do what you’ve always wanted. But to live the retirement dream, you’ll first need to make sure your health care costs are covered.
It might not exactly be part of your fantasy, but facts can’t be denied: Seniors need more health services than the rest of us, and health care costs are only increasing.
Whether it’s for expensive heart medication or because of more frequent doctor visits due to multiple conditions, seniors devote the largest portion of their monthly expenditures to health care. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average Medicare household spends 13.9 percent of its monthly budget on health care, compared with 5.2 percent for non-Medicare households. Medicare covers mainly senior citizens, about 50 million nationwide.
Even if retirement is decades away, you should start saving for it as early as possible, no matter how little you can put away.
“What we know is that health care costs are only going up,” says Ron Mastrogiovanni, founder and CEO of HealthView Services. “I recommend that everyone who is eligible to open an HSA do so, and that they put as much money in it as possible.”
Contributions into an HSA, or health savings account, can be made tax free then withdrawn after age 65 tax free. You can also use your HSA for qualified medical expenses tax free before you reach age 65, but you have to have a health insurance plan with a high deductible to open one (or no insurance at all). High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) are classified as having more than a $1,300 deductible for individuals and $2,600 for families in 2015.
Once you open an HSA, even if your high-deductible health plan is discontinued you can keep the HSA open and let it grow tax free, but you can no longer contribute to it. In that respect, it works like your 401(k) when you change jobs.
If you’re a little farther along in your career, now is the time to start understanding Medicare and planning for your health costs. Medicare is federally run health insurance, mostly for people over 65.
If you’ve been paying Medicare taxes like most working citizens, your Medicare Part A will be free to you, and you’ll be eligible on your 65th birthday. Parts B and D are subject to monthly premiums, which is why some people choose private Medicare Advantage plans that are often cheaper. Because all of these plans leave a portion of costs up to the consumer, there are Medigap plans to cover their portion of the costs.
Here’s a brief rundown of Medicare plans and what they cover:
● Part A covers all inpatient hospitalizations, or hospital stays spanning more than two midnights.
● Part B covers medical expenses such as doctor visits, lab tests and imaging exams.
● Part D is prescription drug coverage.
● Medicare Advantage is all of the above, bundled, but sold by a private insurer not funded by the government.
● Medigap, or supplemental, plans are also from a private insurer; these plans cover out-of-pocket costs such as copays and coinsurance. There are 10 types of supplemental insurance, including Part C, F, N, and G.
If you’re already retired and have chosen your health plan, you can still help yourself save money on health costs. “The best thing you can do is make sure you have supplemental insurance for Medicare,” Mastrogiovanni says.
However, even though these plans are sold by private insurers, the coverage is the same for each type. “So, for example, there’s no point in paying more for one Part C plan over another; you’re just getting ripped off,” Mastrogiovanni says.
Another strategy is to pinpoint an urgent-care facility and full-service hospital in your area with the lowest charges by using a tool such as Best Hospitals below, which provides average Medicare charges by ZIP code. Although the tool only uses the charge Medicare paid and not the consumer, you can bet if Medicare pays less at any given hospital, then you will, too.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. “There are all sorts of programs to help seniors,” Mastrogiovanni says, “but they vary by income level, so I’d advise anyone to ask a professional adviser about those options.”