5 Things You Can Do To Stop Health Care Costs from Eating Up Your Social Security Check

5 Things You Can Do To Stop Health Care Costs from Eating Up Your Social Security Check
 

It’s a startling fact: out-of-pocket health care costs consume more than one-third of the average Social Security benefit payments received by seniors and disabled Americans. According to data from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “Beneficiary spending on Medicare premiums, deductibles, co-pays, all private premiums, and all other services not covered by Medicare, grew from $3,865 per year in 1992 to $6,045 per year in 2015, an increase of 56 percent.”  The growth in out-of-pocket health expenses has far outpaced Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustments. 

Unfortunately, these increases are hardest on those who are least able to pay. Median household income is about $34,000 per year for seniors and about $30,000 for households drawing Social Security disability benefits. 

Despite the numbers, some politicians are proposing to shift more health care costs to Medicare beneficiaries through higher Medicare premiums. If these proposals become law they would have the net effect of cutting Social Security benefits even more.

The problem is not with Medicare. Medicare does a better job of controlling costs than our private health care system, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO predicts that “the rising cost of private insurance will continue to outstrip Medicare for the next 30 years.” 

The problem is that the American way of providing health care is not efficient. Ben Veghte, Research Director for Social Security Works (a not-for profit watchdog organization), says that U.S. consumers “spend twice as much as those of similar countries with worse health outcomes.”

This problem is not likely to go away anytime soon. So what can you do to keep out-of-pocket health care costs from eating a hole in your pocket? Here are 5 suggestions: 

1. See your doctor regularly. 
An ounce of prevention is still better than a pound of cure. Preventive medicine – catching health problems before they get worse – is still the best way to not only save you money, but to improve your daily life. If you have Part B Medicare you are entitled to a free yearly “Wellness Visit” with your doctor and long list of free health screenings. For a free booklet outlining the medical screenings you may be eligible for, go to the website medicare.gov.

2. Comparison shop for health care services.
Many people pore over the grocery ads in the newspaper to cut their food bills.  But those same people often miss the idea that you can also comparison shop for medical procedures, treatments, and medications.  The price for the same service can vary by thousands of dollars from one provider to the next, so check around. Also, carefully review all your medical services bills for errors and ask your pharmacist whether less-costly generic medications may be right for you. 

3. Save the emergency room for emergencies.
The emergency room should only be used for truly life-threatening emergencies. Undoubtedly it will be cheaper to schedule an appointment with your doctor or to visit your pharmacy than to go to an ER. For minor injuries and illnesses that require immediate or after-hours attention, consider an urgent care clinic. In addition to costing less, there many more urgent care clinics than ERs, meaning they are also more convenient. 

4. Eat right and exercise. 
If you take better care of your body, it will take better care of you. A healthy lifestyle means fewer illnesses, injuries, and visits to medical providers. We know this can be especially challenging when you are living with a disability—so ask for help and do your best!


5. Be an advocate-for yourself and others
Write your elected officials and let them know that shifting the burden of health care costs to seniors and the disabled on fixed incomes is neither fair nor acceptable. There are ample opportunities to control health care costs by improving the efficiency of America’s health care system

Timothy J. Cuddigan
Omaha Social Security and Veterans Disability Lawyer With Over 40 Years Experience
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