By Kimberly Blaker
The rising cost of healthcare is a significant concern for most people. But it’s especially true for seniors who likely will have an increasing need for access to medical services as they age and, at the same time, reduced income because of retirement. Without a significant amount of savings, one injury or illness can lead to devastating medical debt. The Affordable Care Act requires everyone to have some type of insurance. Still, plans can be extremely costly with high out-of-pocket costs and possibly limited benefits or coverage. As a result, the need for more affordable medical care is becoming more apparent. Fortunately, several options are available for discounts or alternatives to traditional ways to pay for necessary health services.
Senior health care is generally provided through private insurers or government programs.
- Medicare is an insurance program through the federal government specifically for those age 65 or older or younger individuals with a disability. The four parts of the program range from free to low-cost and cover different health care needs, including a specific prescription drug plan. Medicare also offers savings programs to help individuals prepare for unexpected healthcare costs not already covered. Extra Help is another Medicare program for low-income and low-resource seniors who qualify for additional financial support.
- SHIP (State Health Insurance Assistance Programs) is a resource for anyone who qualifies for Medicare. It offers individuals assistance and helpful information about making health insurance decisions.
- Medicaid is a state program with some federal assistance for significantly low-income individuals. It can also be combined with Medicare.
- The Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) is a comprehensive medical and social service through the states. It provides coordinated care by a team of professionals for seniors age 55 and up who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid.
- Private insurance can be purchased directly from health insurance providers, the Health Insurance Marketplace at healthcare.gov, or through an individual’s current employer. Private insurance has a wide range of costs and benefits depending on the provider, tier, deductible, and possibly subsidies. In addition, insurance companies may deny membership or require increased premiums for individuals because of age or pre-existing conditions. Some major providers include UnitedHealth, Kaiser, Anthem, Cigna, Humana, and BlueCross.
- Medigap is supplemental health insurance. It can be purchased through private insurance to fill the gaps in coverage for individuals with a Medicare plan, including Part A and Part B.
Provider and Other Discounts
Other programs, as well as individual providers, offer discount programs for eligible individuals, including seniors.
- BenefitsCheckUp is a tool from the National Council on Aging to help match people with benefit programs in their area.
- The National Council on Aging also has an AgeWell Planner with a section on Health and Wellness Guidance. In addition, it may have resources available and a tool to search by state for assistance programs and benefits.
- PhRMA has a Medicine Assistance Tool to help patients and caregivers find more information about health care and insurance along with resources to reduce out-of-pocket medical costs.
- The Donated Dental Services program offers free dental care to seniors and other vulnerable populations who qualify.
AARP Money Map
AARP Money Map is a more general free financial support tool to help you manage your expenses and any debt. You don’t have to be an AARP member to use this tool. It sets you up with resources and a plan for your finances to support you in managing healthcare costs. The Money Map tool can also assist in preparing for any unexpected medical expenses that may arise or help you recover from any that have already occurred.
CareCredit is a credit card specifically for healthcare use that helps with out-of-pocket costs for individuals, families, and even pets. It works for health and wellness purchases, including cosmetic care, dentistry, vision care, and more, that aren’t covered by your insurance. There are more than 225,000 providers at locations around the country who accept CareCredit. It also offers several financing options with shorter and longer terms and opportunities for no-interest loans or reduced APR with fixed monthly payments.
Medical Cost Sharing Programs
Health care sharing programs consist of organizations with members who contribute and essentially share the burden of medical costs. Like insurance, you have a monthly contribution and an unshared annual amount that functions like a deductible. These programs are often offered through religious organizations. They may have specific lifestyle requirements that meet the health and morality of the shared beliefs. Although the programs are not health insurance, cost-sharing programs count under the Affordable Care Act. Therefore, they can cost much less than insurance for participants. Each organization may have different membership rules, approaches for pre-existing conditions or those related to lifestyle choices, and types of benefits covered.
Prescription Drug Discount Cards
Whether ongoing or short-term, prescription drug costs can add up and become prohibitively expensive, even with insurance. As a result, many people who rely on prescriptions are forced to go without or cannot take them as prescribed because of increasing prices. Various programs and organizations offer discount cards specifically to help get necessary prescription drugs at a more affordable price. For example, AARP offers a Prescription Discount Card for its members and even a general card that’s accessible to non-members on its website. GoodRx, SingleCare, and WellRx are some of the other well-known companies widely accepted in pharmacies. Many of these are free to join but may also offer an optional membership for premium access.
While the above options for reducing your healthcare costs are not exhaustive, utilizing several of them can help lower your overall medical costs. You can also use these various types of programs to do further research. Look for similar types of programs that might be available to you through your state or community, non-profit organizations, associations, or medical providers.
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