Whichever way the Medicare debate goes, there’s no relief in the overall trend: Health care costs for people 65 and over will continue to rise.
Any legislative reforms – whether they cut Medicare funding or not – are probably a ways away. But even if nothing changes, what seniors pay for health care is still going up. Medicare deductibles and co-pays for hospital rose 3% in 2011, the same increase as the year before. Medicare deductibles for doctors’ visits rose 4.5% for 2011, after a 14% jump the year before, according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and from benefits consulting group The Segal Company. For the optional Medicare Part D plan, which 60% of Medicare recipients buy to offset prescription drug costs, the monthly premium rose by up to 10% on average, according the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Consumers, however, have some choices that can help them save. About 28% of large companies that offer health benefits to employees offered retiree coverage in 2010, though that’s down from 34% in 2005, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Medicare Advantage, a private Medicare plan offered by insurance companies, may be a better value than Medicare and Medigap, says Thomas Carroll, managing director who tracks health insurance companies at Stifel Nicolaus. There is a trade-off: Policyholders often have to stick to a network of doctors and health care providers to get the coverage.