How to Make the Most of Medicare

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MedicareIt's hard enough for retirees to juggle expenses without that regular paycheck they've been used to their whole lives. The financial challenges of retirement are even greater when you consider the increasing costs of health care.

Fortunately, the government's Medicare program offers help covering medical costs, and five years ago it added a prescription drug option to its coverage. Because prescription costs are such a big expense in retirement, if you're eligible for it, Medicare Part D can make a big difference in your pocketbook -- and help ensure your financial security throughout your golden years.

Here's a brief guide to your options and tips on how to get the most out of your coverage.

How Medicare Part D Works

As confusing as government programs can be, the idea behind Medicare drug coverage is simple. You can choose from a range of drug plans offered by different providers. Most of these providers charge a monthly or annual premium for their plans. Plans differ in how much they'll pay for drugs, which particular drugs they cover, and how much you'll have to pay out-of-pocket. Adding to the confusion, not all plans are available nationwide, so residents of a particular state may get shut out of a given plan.

What to Consider When Picking a Plan

With deadlines to pick a plan and penalties if you end up changing your mind, you need to be smart about getting it right the first time. Here are some things to keep in mind so you can do just that.

1. Consider your future needs.

On one hand, you want to pick a plan that will cover everything you need. Of course, it's impossible to know in advance what drugs you might need in the future. But if you look at what prescriptions you have now, it's a lot easier to figure out which plan will pay for them at the lowest cost.

2. Don't overpay for what you'll use.

At the same time, you also need to take into account the premiums you're paying. Sure, an ideal plan might pay for all of your prescription drugs. But if you have to pay hundreds of dollars in extra premiums for complete coverage, you could end up paying more in total than you would under a less-inclusive plan.

3. Use available tools to help you choose.

Medicare's website offers valuable information about prescription drug coverage, including a number of calculators and other tools to help you pick a plan. You can enter a list of your prescriptions, and the website will evaluate your plan options for you. Also, drug stores like Walgreens (WAG), CVS Caremark (CVS), and Rite Aid (RAD) have similar tools to help you evaluate plans and how your needs fit with them.

4. Get help if you can't afford coverage.

If you don't have much money, you might qualify for assistance for your drug coverage. Seniors with extremely limited incomes and financial resources may be eligible for low-income assistance with their prescription drug plan. Current income limits are $16,335 for unmarried seniors and $22,065 for married seniors who live together. Also, to be eligible, you can have no more than $12,640 in financial resources ($25,260 for married couples). But be sure to check the website, as certain types of income and assets don't count toward those totals -- in particular, your home.

Because making these calculations can get complicated, many people qualify for these savings and don't even know it. So before you conclude that you're not eligible, consider using the online application to determine your eligibility. You could end up saving an estimated $4,000 per year in prescription costs.

Motley Fool contributor Dan Caplinger hopes Medicare will still be around by the time he needs it. You can follow him on Twitter here. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article.


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pdccac21

LET'S GET IT TOGETHER AND SOON. THE GOVERNMENT ISN'T LISTENING TO US SO WE NEED TO YELL LOUDER AND MORE FREQUENTLY MAYBE THEY WILL LISTEN TO US ONE DAY SOON WE HOPE TO GOD.

August 04 2011 at 7:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pdccac21

PETE

August 04 2011 at 7:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
*Dottie*

Hey Government, Why do you never check the fraud in food stamps, They receive food stamps, and sell them for their DRUGS, but you never, never hear about any checking up on this disgrace, Hey Government get on the BALL.

August 04 2011 at 7:32 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to *Dottie'*s comment
Mickylitz

Dottie,,,,

The whole welfare system needs to be totally overhauled, the temporary help for citzens down on their luck has become a way of life for millions and they ask for more while the poor working smuck pays the bills.
Come'on folks, get a grip and quit confusing and mixing compassion with stupidity.
Check out what New-York forks out for people who never lifted a finger to help themselves.
ASSISTANCE PROGRAM and ANNUAL AMOUNT: AFDC basic cash grant, $2,856; Medicaid, $13,664; Housing Assistance, $9,828; Food Assistance, $4,507; Energy Assistance, $1,716. TOTAL $32,571. Pre-Tax Equivalent of Welfare Benefit Level $44,900.
A hell of a lot of us had to live on much less while paying our own bills..............

August 04 2011 at 8:08 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
Bob Shull.

I am a 58 year old citizen that receives both medicare and medicaid.I was judged disabled(COPD) in 1999 and every day I Thank God for medicare and medicaid.Without that lifeline I would most probably be dead already.What disturbs me is the governments veiw on COLA.It's beyond hypocracy to say seniors and the disabled do not deserve cost of living increases when gas went from $1.35 a gallon to $3.65 a gallon. I don't want to sound like a crybaby because beleive you me I am TRULY grateful for the benifits I receive from our government,but,if the cost of living has not gone up I will kiss your rear end on mainstreet and give you a week to draw a crowed to watch.Please don't try to tell me that tax loopholes and breaks for big business and The very rich are any thing other than all our COLA's for the last two years.I beleive in paying your FAIR share as I did for over 45 years And I am proud to live and breath here in America.Let's all get on board and quit being so greedy.Thanks.

August 03 2011 at 10:42 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
martinsportraits

The Brain dead senior citizens of this country who overwhelmingly vote republican will soon see their medicare and Social Security benefits cut dramatically by the GOP , If the next president Is A Neo Nazi Republican Like Mitt Romney , Its going To be Funny Watching these old folks eating cat food in the Gutter, At least the GOP will make sure the Billionares continue to get their huge tax breaks ....so its all for a good cause!!!!!

August 03 2011 at 8:20 PM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to martinsportraits's comment
savemycountry911

Fraud is also killing Medicare. If you don't think there will be even more fraud under Obamacare, you are a fool.

August 03 2011 at 8:00 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
gmydogbud

With Respect: Did you know that, President is taking Billions, OUT of Our Mrdicare, For HIS "OBAMA CARE"! Did you know that although Senior Citizens are to receive an increse in Social Security in 2012; it will be a wash, because President Obama, Is Going To Increase The Amount American Senior Citizens Must Pay Each Month For Medicare!

August 03 2011 at 7:03 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gmydogbud's comment
martinsportraits

So sorry but Bush and his cronies pillaged the Social Security and medicare reserves to pay for a great deal of the Iraq Debacle .....all these current disasters began in the Bush administration , How in the hell do you think an Unknown Black man with limited experience got elected president of the USA.....because the Republicans destroyed the country ...thats how!

August 03 2011 at 8:24 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to martinsportraits's comment
savemycountry911

No, Dems put Soc Sec in the general fund so they could spend it...........on buying welfare votes.

August 03 2011 at 10:05 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down
Dan and Marie

I am eligible for medicaid (deductible of $3300 before I get any coverage, my grandson whom we have custody of also receives full Medicaid. We are not African-American. We are eligible because my husband was first laid off fromhis job and then due to on going health issues became permanently disabled. We are not on welfare. I work but have no insurance coverage and cannot afford to purchase it. We do not receive Food Stamps( don't qualify,make too much money). Just because someone receives Medicaid ilmp it does not mean they are low lifes living off of the state. My son works 40 hours per week at $16.50 per hour but because he and my daughter in law have 7 children between them, 3 are theirs, 3 are hers and 1 is my son's child that he has sole custody of, they qualify for Medicaid and Food Stamps, why because of family size, because one non custodial does not pay one dime for her child but court doesn't enforce because she is a woman, and the other 3's father is also laid off, so only a portion of his support is paid thru his unemployment check. ilm9p you really need to get educated before you assume EVERYONE on medicaid is on welfare or black. Not true, many are disabled, senior citizens and yes families just trying to make ends meet. If it wasn't for this "Welfare" we could not have paid the nearly $10000 hospital bill for 5 days my husband had, instead we only paid $3000. My daughter in law would not be able to get the back brace her daughter needs because she has scoliosis, nor would he be able to feed his family and pay the rent to. So you see, not everyone who gets help are unemployed low lifes who sit around at home. GET OVER IT!

August 03 2011 at 6:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dan and Marie

My husband chose a Medicare Advantage Plan that will cover not only his r/x at 25% after a $310 deductible, but also provides, dr. office visits, dental and vision coverages. All for just $69 per month, and he can choose his Dr. We researched all of his options and found the best for him. Funny thing is we have the r/z coverage but he won't really use it now as the discount programs provided by KMart (most are $15.00 for 90 supply,some are less) and another store in our area actually make his prescriptions less than what he would have to pay with his Advantage plan. Pharmicist said you have to shop it out,we use a different store for one diabetes medication because they have a program where anyone can get it for free, if there is something that is not covered on KMart r/x plan we will apply that to the Advantage plan ded. for prescriptions. It is a pain, but you do what you have to save a few dollars.

August 03 2011 at 6:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
mmmgoblue

Medicare spending is out of control. Medicare costs increase this year alone is sadly equal to the budget cut--in other words it's wash. Congress needs to cut Medicare immediately and in a serious manner so there's at least a partial safety net for those of us who will need it 10-15 years from now.

August 03 2011 at 6:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply