How Can I Budget For Healthcare Expenses When I Don’t Know What They Will Be?
Q: I was looking forward to saving some money on premiums when I started Medicare. Boy was I surprised when my doctor discovered a new health problem and my out-of-pocket costs jumped instead. How can I budget for this in the future? I’m in a Medicare Advantage plan.
A: Medicare costs often consume up to half of your Social Security benefit. In a recent TSCL survey, 48% of respondents said they spent 11% to 33% of their Social Security benefits on healthcare in 2014. Another 25% said they spent from 34% to 50% of their Social Security on healthcare.
Here are some tips to help you budget:
- Keep good records: If you already keep detailed records of your health expenses for tax or other reasons, good. If not, set up a bookkeeping sheet for all healthcare expenses, including items like dental and vision care that Medicare does not cover. Enter new costs as soon as you incur them, or at least monthly, so you don’t miss any. Use these records at tax time to determine if you’re entitled to a deduction.
- Flag recurring costs: Flag costs that you have on a regular basis like premiums, prescriptions, over-the-counter meds, and supplements. These you can automatically figure into your monthly budget.
- Check periodic costs: Next check for periodic costs like blood tests, X-rays, CT scans, dental and eye exams. These are the expenses you have once or twice annually, or every few years. When a new test is ordered, ask your doctor whether it’s a one-time test, or whether it’s likely you will be taking that test again periodically. Ask the recommended frequency for that test. Once you have a list of tests and the frequency and what it cost, you can start to develop a long-term contingency healthcare budget, at least based on your current health status.
- Check your health plan’s “out-of-pocket” maximum and budget a little more annually for emergencies: Traditional Medicare has no limit on out-of-pocket spending for hospital or doctors’ services. But Medicare Advantage plans have annual out-of-pocket limits. On average, the out-of-pocket limits for Medicare Advantage plans is $5,037 this year, but limits can be as much as $6,700. Check the booklet that came with your plan, or call your plan’s customer service number. It’s a good idea to budget more than the out-of-pocket maximum for goods and services not covered by Medicare or your plan. For example, your plan may cover eye exams but not glasses. It’s also good to have more the out-of-pocket maximum set aside in case you should ever require hospitalization.
- Figure in inflation: When calculating a long-term budget, consider that Medicare Part B premiums grew by almost 9% per year over the past 15 years. Medicare Advantage premiums have grown somewhat more slowly, but on-going program changes make it important to compare your health plan with other options during the Medicare’s Open Enrollment period (October 15 through December 7).