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

middle age woman doctor's office health care planning
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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.

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, 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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11. Defund Obamacare.

September 10 2013 at 10:06 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to betty_brock's comment

Republicans health care plan:.....Just Die

September 10 2013 at 11:03 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

First thing you have to do is take care of yourself. Diet and exercise. You get tied up with these doctors now days they will never let go and keep you coming and going. Turned vegetarian, lost 65 pounds, no prescriptions. Ride my bike 7 miles a day and walk 5 miles. Play golf on week ends. Stay healthy is a hard thing to do for all our food have great taste. Got to learn how to eat.

September 09 2013 at 10:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

You're kidding, right? The #1 tip for all is to take care of yourself:

- certified organic food
- filtered water
- avoid processed food
- avoid factory meats, go grass fed organics
- eggs- organics
- grains, including corn - NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
- fast foods - Nooooooooooooooooooooo! All GMO\
- avoid all GMO (huge tip)
- supplement with magnesium, iodine, turmeric, vit D, etc.
- no vaccines

Avoid mainstream "medical" advice, what a bunch of idiots.

I could go on, that's a good start.

September 09 2013 at 8:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A recent study found that a typical 65 year old senior couple will need $220,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses, and that doesn't even include long term care. The cost of nursing homes and in-home health care are too high to ignore the risk, so if you have assets to protect, it's wise to insure yourself against the risk with long term care insurance.

The majority of long term care claims, about 85%, last less than 5 years. A basic 5 year long term care insurance policy provides a way for you to hedge against the majority of the risk while keeping your premiums at an affordable rate. Compare the top companies at

September 09 2013 at 7:05 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Obama promised to take care of me. I'm not worried at all.

September 09 2013 at 3:28 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Leah Yomtovian Roush

For all major purchases, especially those as important as healthcare and funeral purchases, the same advice applies: do your research and compare ITEMIZED prices. If you can, get the information before you need it. And before utilizing a service or making a payment, find out exactly what you can expect for a given price.

September 09 2013 at 3:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Leah Yomtovian Roush's comment

That research-and-comparison thing doesn't work in the event of an emergency. Then you are rushed to the nearest hospital ASAP and don't have a lot to say in the matter. It also doesn't work if you have insurance that restricts you to a specific system or specific doctors and punishes you financially if you seek care elsewhere. So you can check around all you want and if you are in an accident or have chest pains, it is all for naught as they haul your buns to the nearest medical center and the crew in the ER gets to work on you. And chances are you will be in no condition physically or mentally to start bossing them around and asking them about prices and cost. You will just accept what they do and hope you make it.

September 09 2013 at 8:54 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

All these are good to a point. Like shopping for somewhere to pay less for prescriptions, I am forced by my insurance company to use mail in service from them. If I would take my scripts, the ones that I take every day, the insurance wil only pay for a couple refills and then they charge an outrageous low amount so that my co-pay is way too high. I would much rather use my local pharmacy, the people that I know and who watch what I take and look for problems, than have to use the mail in service. My doctor has to fax the prescription to the company and often for some reason, (computers!) it does not go through. I discover this after waiting for the script to arrive in the mail, contact the doctor and they check and find out the company never got the script that was faxed. This has happened way to often. Then I have to either pay for "hurry up" mail which costs me more or try to get a small amount from my local pharmacy! The only good thing about mail in scripts is that they give me a 90 day supply. Another thing I do not like is when my scripts have to sit in my mail box until I get home from work. I don't think freezing temps are good for the pills or capsules, especially when the mail comes in the morning and I may not get home until after 6 PM. Plus there is such a good chance of someone seeing the mail person put the package in my box and then stealing them. How would I even know? Just not a good situation for us but apparently good for my company and the insurance company. I see dollar signs for them both and not for the consumer.

September 09 2013 at 2:05 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Or........we can all just work until we drop dead. Most of us can't afford to retire anyway.

September 09 2013 at 12:00 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

The problem I have is I'm on Social Security and have Medicare but I get too much from SS to qualify for Medicade and I can't afford a penny of the 20% that Medicare doesn't cover. I need to see a doctor now but I can't pay for it at all so I just make do with the medical problems I have.

September 09 2013 at 10:40 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply