10 Tips to Help the 50-Plus Crowd Manage Health Care Costs

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In your 50s and beyond, health care costs loom more ominously than ever before -- and with good reason: According to the folks at Fidelity, a 65-year-old couple retiring now faces average health care costs in retirement of about $220,000.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the bite of health care expenses. Here are some tips to consider:

1. Don't take your health coverage for granted. While you might hope or expect that your employer will give you some health care coverage in retirement, that's increasingly hard to come by, and many folks who've been promised coverage have had it reduced or just canceled. Be sure to factor health care expenses into your retirement savings plan. If your financial future seems bleak, remember that you may be able to vastly improve it by working a few more years. During that time, you can save more money and keep any employer-based health insurance. Being active, whether through work or volunteering or hobbies, can help older people stay mentally and physically healthy, too.

2. Work longer. If necessary, consider working at least until Medicare kicks in, at age 65. Those who retire early can sometimes face steep health care costs until they qualify for Medicare.

3. Shop around for your prescriptions. There may be less expensive alternatives to the medications you're prescribed, and you might find much lower costs simply by calling a few local pharmacies to see what they charge for your prescription. You can also often find lower prices by ordering your medications online or through the mail. Your doctor can help lower your costs, too. If you're taking 10-mg pills, for example, you might be able to get a similar-priced prescription for 20-mg ones, and then use a pill-splitter to cut them in half. In a similar vein, if you're taking two 10-mg pills per day, you might ask if you can take a single 20-mg dose instead, if that will cut your costs and still be medically safe.

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4. Shop around for other services. If you're going to have a pricey lab test or procedure, such as an MRI, you might also shop around. Ask your medical office for the Current Procedural Terminology, or CPT, code for the test, and look it up at the American Medical Association's website, which can tell you how much Medicare reimburses for it and can also provide estimates of overall costs. You can also find fair prices for various medical services at www.healthcarebluebook.com, which can also help you negotiate better deals.

5. Look into installment plans. If money is tight and you're looking at some considerable medical expenses, talk to your doctor or dentist about it. They may be able to keep your costs down by suggesting less-costly treatments or even by lowering fees for you. Don't be shy, as being frank might pay off. Even hospital bills can be negotiable, if you're able to demonstrate that they're a hardship.

6. If you have predictable health care expenses, look into setting up an HSA or FSA. Health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts are tax-sheltered accounts, permitting you to sock away money on a pre-tax basis to spend on certain qualified kinds of expenses.

7. Consider buying long-term-care health insurance. It's designed to pay for home-care services or nursing home expenses when needed. Consider not buying it, too. Long-term-care insurance is getting so expensive that many folks are advised not to buy it, and to just try to put money aside for that purpose instead. But since the coverage is much cheaper if you buy it when you're young, it's worth spending some time now deciding whether it makes sense for you. Consider, for example, that per a Genworth Financial (GNW) calculator, a policy paying $100 a day for three years sold to a 55-year-old in Colorado would cost around $1,070 annually, versus $2,990 for a 70-year-old.

8. Take advantage of wellness programs available at your workplace -- especially if, like many large employers, yours offers financial incentives for doing so.

9. Learn what to expect under 'Obamacare.' Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, those who work for employers who don't offer health insurance will be able to buy insurance for themselves, and those with limited means may also qualify for subsidies. People with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, heart issues or high blood pressure can rejoice, too, because insurers will no longer be able to use that information to raise premiums or deny coverage.

10. Maximize your health. Exercise, eat healthful foods, get regular checkups and preventive care, and avoid bad habits such as smoking. Don't neglect important screenings, lest conditions such as osteoporosis go undiagnosed or diseases such as cancer grow unnoticed. Taking care of yourself can set you up for a longer life, and can save you a lot in health care costs along the way, too.

You can save a lot of money, headaches and even heartaches by managing your health care well.

Longtime Motley Fool contributor Selena Maranjian has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned.
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