One of the great perks of reaching retirement age in the United States is obtaining virtually free health coverage through the federal Medicare program. If you have been making Social Security payments through your employer, then you automatically qualify for Medicare when you turn 65. Medicare coverage typically offers benefits for hospitalization, doctor’s visits and many other medical services, but it doesn’t cover everything you might need in your twilight years.
Originally established in 1966, Medicare is a national insurance program that covers Americans aged 65 or older. Today, the program covers about 55 million Americans and pays, on average, about half of their medical expenses. While Medicare will pay for a large portion of major medical fees, it typically does not cover fees associated with dental, vision, hearing or long term care. Medicare also requires that beneficiaries pay out-of-pocket expenses like premiums, deductibles, and co-payments.
While Medicare should be an important component of your retirement health plan, it is not comprehensive. This means that it is usually in your best interests—financially and medically—to supplement your Medicare coverage. Not only will these supplemental policies help pay for out-of-pocket expenses, but they may provide additional benefits that traditional Medicare does not.
- Medicare Advantage—beginning in the 1970’s Medicare began allowing beneficiaries to obtain their benefits through contracted private insurers. In 1997, these private plans became formally known as Medicare Advantage plans that offered all of the benefits of Medicare Parts A and B, but could also include additional benefits like vision, dental and prescription drugs. Since its establishment, Medicare Advantage plans have quickly become one of the most popular ways to obtain Medicare benefits; in 2015, almost 17.5 million people were enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans.
While Medicare Advantage plans provide many benefits not found in traditional Medicare, there are also some drawbacks. Some Medicare Advantage plans require an additional premium cost, although this is rarely more than a few dollars a month. Some of these plans use a HMO network that may be more restrictive in which doctors you may see.
- Critical illness policies—critical illness policies are specialized health insurance plans designed to pay for medical and living expenses related to a specific health condition. Many of these critical illness policies provide protection against conditions like heart attacks, strokes or cancer. Although Medicare does offer some coverage for these conditions, in many cases, it will not pay for all or, even, part of some more expensive procedures or treatments. For a relatively small monthly premium, a critical illness policy will help pay for these medical expenses, and because the payout from these policies is usually a lump sum, these funds may also be used to help pay for transportation, housing and board. For millions of Americans who encounter one or more of these dreaded but all too common health emergencies, a critical illness policy may not only save their lives but also their finances.
- Medigap policies—if you merely want a supplemental health insurance policy that assists in paying for many of the out-of-pocket expenses that traditional Medicare does not, then a Medigap policy may be the answer. Medigap policies are sold by private insurance companies and are intended to help you pay the deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance that Medicare fails to cover. Medigap plans generally do not provide other benefits like vision, dental, hearing and nursing care. Also, if you plan on traveling outside the U.S., a Medigap policy may provide health coverage in foreign countries. Most of these policies are very affordable, usually no more than a few dollars a month; one study found the average annual premium was $1,800 for a 65 year old policyholder.
- Vision supplemental insurance—for most people, aging inevitably results in major health issues. Among the most common of these is vision problems like nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, cataracts or macular degeneration. While some of these issues are covered by traditional Medicare, many of the most common issues are not. That is why a supplemental vision policy is often a wise investment for seniors. With a vision plan, you get one free eye exam each year—which may require a small co-payment—and a certain allowance for glasses or contacts annually. Although most plans do not cover vision correction procedures like LASIK, some insurers do offer discounts if you do decide you want a more permanent solution.
- Dental supplemental insurance—almost 25 percent of Americans aged 60 or older do not possess any natural teeth. This startling statistic points out how commonly seniors suffer from dental problems that may result in tooth loss, bone deterioration and oral prosthodontics. When you reach retirement age, it is very likely that you will encounter problems with your teeth and gums that will necessitate intervention by a dental professional. This type of care may include routine dental cleanings, dentures or, even, oral surgery, depending on the nature of the issue.
One of the best ways to preserve your beautiful smile is to obtain a supplemental dental plan. The cost of the supplemental dental plan depends on your geographical location, but most are only a few dozen dollars a month. They usually cover checkups, X-rays, and cleanings; these plans may also cover crowns, periodontics, dentures or dental implants. In most cases, these policies do not cover cosmetic procedures like teeth whitening or veneers. You may be required to pay a co-payment or co-insurance when you obtain these services.
Medicare is a fine health insurance program that has helped millions of Americans stay healthy, but it is not the only health coverage you should rely on. Unless you are independently wealthy, you will want to reduce your financial obligations that Medicare ignores, and a supplemental health insurance policy can help you do that. For a minor cost, you can easily fill in the gaps in coverage with a Medicare Advantage or specialized supplemental health plan. To find out more about supplemental health plans from an insurance expert, please visit Boost Health Insurance.