(Washington, DC) – An estimated 39 million Medicare beneficiaries spend up to 29 percent of their Social Security benefits on healthcare costs, according to a new survey by The Senior Citizens League (TSCL). “That’s a huge chunk of one’s household budget, and chances are that many of those people are paying too much for premiums, deductibles, and out – of – pocket costs,” says Mary Johnson a Medicare policy analyst for The Senior Citizens League. “One of the best financial moves that Medicare beneficiaries can make is to review health and drug plan coverage and compare options during Medicare’s Fall Open Enrollment Period, which starts October 15 and runs through December 7, 2021,” Johnson says. “For many people, it could potentially save hundreds of dollars, making the difference between having to split pills or going without, versus to covering all prescriptions and still winding up with a little cash left over,” says Johnson, who helps her friends and family with the task.
With inflation soaring in 2021, The Senior Citizens League has received dozens of emails from retired and disabled adults who say they have cut back on prescription drugs to cope with rising costs, because they have no savings. Said one disabled retiree, “My husband and I have Social Security as our only income. All of our savings went to pay my medical bills. I have seven prescriptions and my husband has three. They are each a minimum of $12 co-pay per month. We have no extra money. Our grocery budget is the only place we can cut from if we want to pay medical bills.”
“Splitting pills, taking prescriptions every other day, or simply not refilling prescriptions is hazardous to health, especially when the drug is an essential one for conditions such as diabetes,” says Johnson, whose mother was a diabetic. “The process of comparing plans can be a chore and confusing. But there are Medicare counselors in every state who are available to help beneficiaries compare and select the best choice of coverage, with free one - on - one counseling,” Johnson explains.
For the past 16 years, Johnson, has been helping friends and family members with the job of comparing health and drug plans. “It takes patience, but this is likely to be the best return on comparison shopping that you do all year,” Johnson says. Here are some pointers:
- Get help. Free one-on-one counseling is available to assist you in comparing health plans through your State Health Insurance Program (SHIP): Check this link for your local program and make an appointment with a counsellor. Medicare Open Enrollment starts October 15 and runs through December 7, 2021. Medicare counselors can help you consider important pros and cons. There are hidden pitfalls to some choices. Dropping your current coverage in favor of a low - cost health plan touting extra benefits is not a good idea until you‘ve checked important details.
- Get your health expense records up to date and review the Annual Notice of Change from your current plans: Drug and health plans send out their Annual Notice of Changes for 2022 in September through October of this year. Review those details to learn what might affect you in 2022. Start a list of costs, break down what you will pay for all premiums, any out-of-pocket costs that you typically pay. List what you spend out - of - pocket on dental, vision and hearing services, as well as any expenses such as eyeglasses and hearing aids. If you are comparing current Medigap coverage with Medicare Advantage, you will need to know what sort of services you are using and what you typically pay out - of - pocket now for those services, if anything. Worksheets maintained for tax purposes, statements, check registers may be an excellent source of this information.
- Learn all your options for health and drug plans by using Medicare’s health plan finder FIRST: We recommend using this tool rather than attempting to check plans or insurers individually, which could rapidly become overwhelming and aggravating. You can contact insurers for details later when you have narrowed down your best bets.
- Search for health and drug coverage based on the drugs you actually take: Plans vary tremendously on the price of prescription drugs, and you can spend hundreds of dollars more per year than you need to. Do your search for health or stand-alone drug plans by inputting all the drugs you take to get your best choice of plans for you at the lowest cost. Make a list of each drug that you take, dosage, and the amount you take in a month or 90 days if by mail order. Spelling and dosage details are important to get most accurate results. The Medicare plan finder will pull up a list of plans showing the lowest costing plan first. It’s important to check the reasons why the plan costs less, including whether the plan covers ALL your prescription drugs. When checking plan cost details, check the difference in prescription prices between standard retail pharmacies and mail order.
The Senior Citizens League supports proposals that strengthens Medicare for dental, vision and audio services, and cuts prescription drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices. To learn more visit: www.SeniorsLeague.org.
With 1.2 million supporters, The Senior Citizens League is one of the nation’s largest nonpartisan seniors’ groups. Its mission is to promote and assist members and supporters, to educate and alert senior citizens about their rights and freedoms as U.S. Citizens, and to protect and defend the benefits senior citizens have earned and paid for. The Senior Citizens League is a proud affiliate of The Retired Enlisted Association. Visit www.SeniorsLeague.org for more information.