It's no secret that medical costs are rising. And seniors — 60 percent of whom are managing at least two chronic conditions, according to the National Institute on Aging — are paying a high price. Here's how to fight back.
Order medication in bulk
Ordering a 90-day supply of medication by mail often costs less than hitting up your local pharmacy once a month. When you use this method for long-term meds (generally what these mail-orders are designed for check for restrictions), you can also get automatic refills so you never run out.
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Tap into prevention power
If you have Medicare, make sure you get your free annual flu shot and vaccines for hepatitis B and pneumococcus, a common cause of pneumonia. You can also get free smoking-cessation help and tests to detect colon cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. And don't forget to take advantage of the annual wellness visits provided as part of Medicare Part B.
Get a free eye exam
If you are 65 or older and haven't had an eye exam in three or more years, you may be eligible for a free eye exam, compliments of EyeCare America, a program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. You may also qualify for a free glaucoma test if you're at risk and haven't had an eye exam in a year or more.
Get Rx help
If you need medication, but can't afford it, look into getting a Medicare Advantage plan, which has prescription drug help. Also check out the Medicare Rights Center, NeedyMeds, American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Partnership for Prescription Assistance, RxAssist, and The Patient Advocate Foundation's Co-Pay Relief Program. One of these groups should be able to help.
Grab a banana for breakfast
About 67 percent of women and 61 percent of men aged 65 to 74 have people high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Up your potassium intake by eating bananas, baked potatoes with the skin, or other potassium-rich foods to help lower blood pressure naturally. Exercising and following the DASH diet can help, too, which may reduce your need for medication and cut costs.
Many large retailers, such as Target, Walmart, and Kmart, offer hundreds of types of generic drugs at substantial discounts. At Walmart, for example, you may be able to get your medication for as little as $4 or $5 for a month's supply, or $10 for a 90-day supply. Brand-name drugs may be a different story, however, so check the price.
Lower your cholesterol naturally
Cholesterol-lowering drugs can do the trick, but lifestyle changes can help too — and may even reduce your need for medication. Increasing soluble fiber (found in oatmeal, beans, and fruit) can help lower your LDL, or bad, cholesterol. Quitting smoking, cutting back on bad fats (saturated and trans), and getting moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week may save you even more.
Stay in network
Choosing doctors and specialists who are among your plan's network providers is always the least costly option. But if you have Medicare and are in need of medical supplies or equipment (known as durable equipment, such as oxygen tanks and walkers), it's crucial you use vendors that "accept assignment," or agree to accept Medicare's approved amount as payment in full. Otherwise you could be paying up to 15% more.
Scrutinize your bill
Medical bills and tests can be so filled with jargon it seems like a foreign language. But don't let confusion over terms end up costing you. Ask for clarity from your provider's customer-service department, call your doctor's office for an explanation of billing policies, or contact your insurance company for help understanding your bill.
Concentrate on calcium
Maintaining your calcium and vitamin D intake as you age will help prevent bone thinning and osteoporosis. You don't have to chug a gallon of milk every morning to keep levels up. Try a variety of calcium- and vitamin-D rich foods and recipes to mix it up.
Pick Part C
Trim your healthcare costs by selecting the health plan that best suits your needs. For example: Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans typically have lower premiums than Original Medicare (Parts A and B), and they often include pharmacy benefits not found with Original Medicare. The trade-off? Your choice of doctors and hospitals may be more limited, says Derek J. Fitteron, founder and CEO of Medical Cost Advocate, a Wyckoff, New Jersey-based medical bill-negotiation and healthcare-advocacy provider.
Borrow, don't buy
Check out yoga, tai chi, or other exercise DVDs at your local library — don't buy them. When the routine gets dull, it's easy to switch it up for a more interesting one. What's more, you can borrow all the latest books on fitness trends, health, diets, and nutrition, without forking over the cash.
Lose weight if you can
Dropping a few extra pounds can reduce your risk of having a slew of health problems. Your chances of having a heart attack, diabetes, and high blood pressure all go down — and being a little lighter on your feet can ease joint pain from osteoarthritis.
Just as generic food is similar to brand-name products, generic medication is often nearly identical to comparable brand-name drugs. If your doctor is writing you a prescription, ask him or her if there's a generic version or alternative available. And also make sure any drug you are taking is on your insurance plan's formulary, or list of suggested drugs. If there's not a generic available, choosing the less-expensive brand on the formulary will keep costs down.
Consider pill splitting
If you have to pay the same co-pay for a stronger dose of a medication as you would for a lower dose, it might be possible to get the higher dose and split pills to save money. This doesn't always work (such as with capsules or drugs designed to release their contents over time), but it's worth discussing with your doctor.
Ask if tests are necessary
When you set foot in an emergency room (or even an urgent-care facility) you should know the bills will be hefty. But there are some strategies to help reduce the sticker shock and prevent some overcharging. These include asking for an itemized statement, reading through your explanation of benefits thoroughly, and asking if tests are truly necessary or if there are less expensive strategies for diagnosis and treatment.
Get a free skin-cancer check
Get a full body skin-cancer check compliments of dermatologists who volunteer for the Skin Cancer Foundation. Find out when their mobile unit is going to be in your area on their annual Road to Healthy Skin Tour. You should also check your Medicare coverage to determine what types of skin cancer tests are covered.
Know your deductible
Whether you have Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, or a combination thereof (say, Medicare and a "medigap" supplemental policy), you should know how it works.
The first step is to know what your deductible is — and if you've met it. If you've satisfied the deductible for the year, for example, you may schedule a medical procedure right away. Or you might delay having the procedure until the next year when you are going to be closer to meeting your deductible.
Drink enough water
Older adults are more susceptible to dehydration than younger adults; this is partly because as we age, our sense of taste and thirst can decline too — meaning that we're less likely to feel thirsty. (Plus, certain medications, such as those for high blood pressure, can increase the risk of dehydration.) Severe dehydration in older adults will probably need to be treated in the hospital. So avoid falling ill, and the bills that follow, by tapping into the free and healthy resource from the faucet.
Get a second opinion
Don't jump right in to an extensive and expensive surgery or procedure before finding out if you have options. There could be another less invasive procedure, or another route you haven't yet tried. Getting a second opinion is one of the best ways to find out.
Walk it out
Walking is one of the simplest and most cost-effective workouts. Doing at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, which are two leading causes of death, according to the CDC.
Get a radon check
Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that can accumulate in homes in some regions of the United States. The National Cancer Institute says that, after smoking, it's the second leading cause of lung cancer. You can often get a free or reduced-price radon kit to test your home, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
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