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Don’t Blow Off Your Doctor Visit Because of Inflation

There are ways to afford medications and copayments, despite rising prices

Translucent yellow prescription pill bottles filled with dollar bills.
iStock / Getty Images

Soaring inflation is forcing many older adults to skimp on health care services, forgoing doctor’s appointments and shunning prescriptions to save money. That is only expected to get worse as the population ages. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2034 some 77 million people will be 65 and older. Today that stands at over 54 million.

“If the economy changes such that people need to spend a larger share of fixed incomes on housing, rent, food or transportation, then a smaller slice of their budget will be available to spend on health care,” says Gretchen Jacobson, vice president of the Medicare program at the Commonwealth Fund.

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That’s currently the case with inflation at a 40-year high of 9.1 percent. Many older adults on fixed incomes are struggling to put food on the table or afford trips to the doctor. It’s particularly hard for people between the ages of 50 and 64. They aren’t eligible for Medicare yet and, as a result, are cutting back more than their 65-plus counterparts. “This bracket of older Americans will continue to increase at a rate of 10,000 a day,” says Nicole Willcoxon, a research director at Gallup. “As they age and cut back on needed care, there will be more people sick, more people not taking care of themselves and more dire consequences going forward.”  

The good news is there are ways to keep your health in order without sacrificing basic necessities. Here’s how.  ​

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Prescription drug cost hacks 

According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), older adults spend an average of $600 annually on prescription drugs. For those with chronic conditions it’s more. One way to reduce that expense is to be your own advocate. If your doctor prescribes a pricey medication, request a cheaper alternative. Easy enough, but Peter Hollmann, M.D., chief medical officer at Brown Medicine, says lots of patients are embarrassed to ask, not realizing there is often a cheaper alternative. Hollmann also says using a mail-order service can help reduce costs. 

There are also over 2,500 federal, state and local programs available for older adults that can lower food, housing, medicine and shelter expenses, according to the NCOA. Many are geared toward low-income older adults. If you are able to save on food or shelter, more money can be allocated for medication. ​

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Prioritize doctor visits  

A $25 copayment for a doctor visit can be difficult for countless adults trying to manage their money with inflation running at 9.1 percent. That’s particularly true if you are told to see specialist after specialist. To lower this expense, Hollmann says to speak up for yourself. It behooves you to explain your financial situation to your primary care doctor and see if all those extra doctor visits are necessary. Can they be spread out? Are there ways to improve your health without seeing a specialist? The idea is to categorize them into what would be nice to have and what’s essential.

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The latter is what you focus on. “If someone is getting around and is not severely impaired and is thinking about a knee replacement surgery that will cost $2,000, it’s probably OK if they don’t get it,” says Hollmann. “On the other hand, if you skip a medicine that is lifesaving then that is not a good decision.” Don’t forget preventive care, including cancer screenings and mammograms. Most of it is free and can go a long way toward keeping health care costs down in the future. ​

Get healthier to save

No matter your age, it’s not too late to improve your overall health and lower your medical costs. The healthier you are, the fewer doctor visits and less medicine you’ll need. There are a slew of programs available online or in person to help you get in shape, eat healthfully and improve your mind. Through programs offered by federal and local groups, AARP and other organizations, senior centers, schools and YMCAs and YWCAs, adults have a plethora of exercise programs, diet tips and health information at their fingertips. These programs are helping people prevent falls, lose weight and improve their mental health, says Kathleen Cameron, senior director of NCOA’s Center for Healthy Aging. “People of any age can continue to improve their health,” says Cameron. “It’s never too late to get healthier.” 

Resources to lower health care costs

  • ​AARP Staying Sharp
    Available to AARP members, this program provides interactive activities, recipes, games and more designed to keep you healthy and fit.
  • Donated Dental Services​
    This program provides older adults with free comprehensive dental treatment. Donated Dental Services operates through a volunteer network of more than 15,000 dentists and 3,400 dental labs across the U.S.
  • The Health Center Program
    Aimed at older adults with lower incomes, this program provides primary health care and dental services.​
  • Medicaid
    Run by federal and state governments, this program lowers the cost of health care for older adults, people who are blind and those living with a disability.
  • Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy
    With this program, you can lower the costs associated with prescription medications, such as plan premiums, deductibles and cost sharing. To be eligible, you must be enrolled in Medicare Part D and have limited income and assets.
  • Medicare Savings Programs (MSP)
    Medicare Savings Programs (MSP) are federally funded programs administered by each individual state. These programs help pay for your Medicare Part B premiums, deductibles and copays.​
  • SingleCare Prescription Savings Program
    SingleCare works with pharmacies to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs, in some cases saving consumers up to 80 percent. That savings is passed on to members free of charge. To use the program, you download a coupon card and bring it to participating pharmacies to save.
  • The Senior Box Program
    This is another federally funded assistance program for adults 60-plus who have incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level. With this program, you get a free box of food containing set items. The food is purchased by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which works with local nonprofits to distribute the boxes monthly​​.
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