How seniors can save on prescription drug costs
Dear Savvy Senior,
I take several medications for multiple health conditions and the prices keep going up, even with my Medicare prescription drug insurance. Can you recommend any tips that can help cut my costs?
- Tapped Out Tina
The high cost of prescription drugs is an ongoing problem that stings everyone, but it usually affects seniors more because they have a greater need for medications and because Medicare doesn’t cover all their drug costs.
While the Inflation Reduction Act, that was signed into law last year, will help seniors save on their medications by negotiating lower drug prices and caping out-of-pocket spending at $2,000, it will be a few years before the law is fully enacted. In the meantime, here are some different strategies that can help reduce your costs so you can afford what you need.
Talk to your doctor: A good first step is to review your medications once a year with your doctor to find out if any of them can be stopped or reduced. If you’re taking any brand-name drugs check to see if they are available in a cheaper generic form. Also, for any drugs you’re taking long-term ask your doctor for a cheaper three or six-month prescription, versus a one month. And find out if any of the pills you’re taking can be cut in half. Pill splitting allows you to get two months’ worth of medicine for the price of one. If you do this, you’ll need to get a prescription for twice the dosage you need.
Review your insurance: Carefully review your drug coverage during the open enrollment period, which runs Oct. 15 – Dec. 7 for Medicare beneficiaries. Make sure all your regular medications are covered in the plan’s formulary; that your current pharmacy is in the plan’s network; and that your plan covers additional medication coverage in the gap. To shop and compare Medicare prescription drug plans go to Medicare.gov/plan-compare.
Pay cash: Not using insurance for prescriptions seems counterintuitive, but in some cases, it may save you money. For example, many chain pharmacies and big-box stores like Walmart and Costco have their own prescription savings programs that may be lower than your insurance copayment. Or you can use coupons through GoodRx.com or RxSaver.com that can save you up to 80 percent off the list price of generic and some brand-name drugs in certain pharmacies.
Shop online: You can also save on regularly used medications by having them sent to you from a mail-order pharmacy. Check with your health insurer or regular pharmacy to see whether it will get you a better deal. If not, check online pharmacies like CostPlusDrugs.com or HoneybeeHealth.com. With these, you may spend less in some cases than you might with insurance.
Buy from Canada: Because prescription drugs are often much cheaper north of the border, many Americans have chosen this option for years. While this is technically illegal in most states, the Food and Drug Administration generally does not stop people from doing it. If you want to explore this option use PharmacyChecker.com, an online tool that will help you identify reputable Canadian and international online pharmacies.
Get more help: If your income is limited, you may also be able to get help through Medicare’s Extra Help program (Medicare.gov/basics/costs/help/drug-costs), your state pharmaceutical assistance program (Medicare.gov/plan-compare/#/pharmaceutical-assistance-program/states) or patient assistance programs (Medicare.gov/pharmaceutical-assistance-program). Visit each website to see if you’re eligible and to apply.
How Seniors Can Protect Themselves from Cybercrimes
Dear Savvy Senior,
I spend a lot of time online and love the convenience of paying bills, shopping, and keeping up with my grandkids on Facebook and Instagram. But a few months ago, my computer was infected with malware, and I just found out some cyber crook opened up a credit card using my identity and went on a shopping spree. Do you have some simple tips to help me stay safe while online?
- Paranoid Patty
Unfortunately, cybercrimes against seniors continue to be a big problem in the U.S. According to the FBI 2022 Elder Fraud Report, cybercrime cost Americans over age 60 more than $3 billion last year, a whopping 84 percent increase from 2021.
While anyone can be subject to cybercrimes, seniors are frequent targets because they tend to be more trusting and have more money than their younger counterparts. But there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself from online fraud, hacking and scams. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Strengthen your passwords: A strong password should contain at least 12 characters and include numbers and a special character, like an exclamation point or asterisk. Be sure to change up your password across different sites to ensure a hacker would not gain access to all accounts through one password. And keep a written list of all your passwords stored in a safe secure place.
On your smartphone or tablet, be sure to set up a four or six-digit PIN to protect your device.
Opt out of pop-ups: To protect yourself from computer viruses and other forms of malware, make it a habit to avoid any pop-up style message when you’re on the web. Sometimes hackers disguise their malware as pop-up advertisements or “special offers” when you’re shopping or reading online. Clicking on these pop-ups can lead to viruses or data breaches.
If you encounter a suspicious pop-up message, don’t click on anything in the window. Simply leave the site or close out of your web browser.
When in doubt, throw it out: Sometimes online hackers will send you an email or text message and pretend to be someone they’re not in order to convince you to share valuable information with them, such as your Social Security Number, address or credit card information. This is called phishing.
If you receive a message from an unknown sender, do not respond or click on any links or attachments. Instead, either ignore the message or delete it.
Share with care: There is such a thing as oversharing, and it definitely applies to online profiles. On social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, online hackers can easily gather information about you from what you post – like where you live.
Ensure that your privacy settings are up to date so that only people who follow you or are your Facebook friend can see your posts.
Verify websites: Before you shop or access your bank online, double check the validity of the website you’re using. Reputable sites use technologies such as SSL (Secure Socket Layer) that encrypt data during transmission. You will see a little padlock icon in your browser and usually “https” at the front of your address bar to confirm it’s a secure connection. If you don’t see it in the web address that you’re on, you should not trust that website with your passwords, payment or banking information.
Have some back-up: Practicing safe habits will protect you and your information, but you don’t have to rely on just yourself to stay safe. Anti-virus software works in the background to protect your computer from a variety of malware and helps to make it easier for you to avoid threats while surfing the web.
For more information on how to safeguard your personal technology devices and information, visit Consumer.ftc.gov and search “Protect Your Personal Information and Data.” And to report fraud and identity theft go to ReportFraud.ftc.gov and IdentityTheft.gov.
Best Stair Lifts of 2023
Dear Savvy Senior,
Because of chronic arthritis, I have a very difficult time going up and down stairs anymore and am interested in purchasing a stair lift for my two-story house. Can you recommend some good companies?
- Arthritic Andy
Yes, of course! A good home stair lift is a great mobility solution for anyone who is unable, or has a difficult time climbing stairs. To help you choose a quality stair lift that meets your needs and budget, here are a few shopping tips along with some top-rated companies.
What to Know
There are two basic types of stair lifts that are sold today: straight and curved. The type you need will depend upon the design of your staircase.
A straight stair lift is one that travels in a straight line up a flight of stairs uninterrupted by landings, bends or curves, and costs anywhere between $2,000 and $5,000 installed. Curved lifts, however, are much more elaborate and will go around corners, bends and changes in direction. Curved lifts are also much more expensive, typically running between $8,500 and $15,000 or more depending on the complexity of the installation.
Most stair lifts available today also have seats, armrests and footplates that fold up out of the way, and swivel seats that make getting into and out of the chair easier. They also come with standard safety features like seatbelts, braking systems and footrest sensors, push-button or rocker-switch controls located on the armrest for easy operation, and “call send” controls which allow you to call or send the unit to the other end of the stairs. Make sure the lift you choose has all these features.
If you are a large person, you may need to get a heavy-duty lift with a wider seat and bigger lifting capacity – all companies offer them. Or, if you’re tall, find out about raising the seat height during installation.
Depending on the company, you may also have the option of choosing between an electric (AC) and a battery powered (DC) stair lift. Electric stair lifts are simpler and cheaper than battery powered units, but if your home loses power so does your lift. While battery powered lifts work even if there’s a power failure.
Best Stair Lifts
To help you choose a great stair lift the National Council on Aging, which is a national nonprofit organization that advocates for older Americans, put together a review team to research the different companies. Their list of best stair lifts of 2023 includes:
- Editor’s Pick: Bruno (bruno.com)
- Most Affordable: AmeriGlide (ameriglide.com)
- Best Customer Reviews: Acorn (acornstairlifts.com)
- Most Supportive Design: Harmar (harmar.com)
- Most Adaptable to the Home: Access BDD (accessbdd.com)
- Best for Arthritis: Stannah (stannah-stairlifts.com)
See NCOA.org/adviser/stair-lifts/best-stair-lifts to read their detailed reviews.
Unfortunately, health insurance including original Medicare does not cover home stair lifts, but some Medicare Advantage plans may help pay. Or, if you have long-term care insurance it too may cover a portion of the costs.
If you qualify for Medicaid, many states offer waivers that may help pay for a lift, and the VA has several grant and benefit programs that may offer assistance too if you’re a veteran.
To save some money, you may want to consider purchasing a used or refurbished model. Or, if you need a stair lift for only a short period of time, consider renting one. Most companies offer these options, and many offer financings too.
To get started, contact some of the previously listed stair lift companies who will put you in touch with a dealer in your area. All dealers provide free in-home assessments and estimates and can help you choose an appropriate lift.
Does Medicare Cover Second Medical Opinions?
Dear Savvy Senior,
Does Medicare cover second medical opinions? The doctor I currently see thinks I need a knee replacement, but I would like to get some other treatment options before I proceed. What can you tell me?
- Limping Larry
Getting a second medical opinion from another doctor is a smart idea that may offer you a fresh perspective and additional options for treating your knee so you can make a more informed decision. Or, if the second doctor agrees with your current one, it can give you some reassurance.
Yes, Medicare does pay for second opinions if your current doctor has recommended surgery, or some other major diagnostic or therapeutic procedure.
If you’re enrolled in original Medicare, 80 percent of the costs for second medical opinions are covered under Part B (you or your Medicare supplemental policy are responsible for the other 20 percent), and you don’t need an order or referral from your doctor to get one. Medicare will even pay 80 percent for a third opinion, if the first two differ.
Most Medicare Advantage plans cover second opinions too, but you may need to follow certain steps to get it paid for. For example, some plans will only help pay for a second opinion if you have a referral from your primary care doctor, and/or they may require that you can only use a doctor in their network. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you’ll need to call it to find out their rules.
Finding Another Doctor
To find another doctor for a second opinion you can either ask your current doctor for a name or two, or ask another doctor you trust for a referral, or you can find one on your own.
Whatever route you choose, it’s best to go with a doctor that’s affiliated with a different practice or hospital than your original doctor. Hospitals and practices can be set in their ways when it comes to treatments and are likely to offer similar advice.
If you choose to find one on your own, use Medicare’s Care Compare tool at Medicare.gov/care-compare. This will let you find doctors by name or medical specialty in your area that accept original Medicare. You can also get this information by calling Medicare at 800-633-4227. Or, if you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, call or visit your plan’s website for a list of candidates.
After you’ve got a few doctors names, there are a number of free online resources to help you research them like HealthGrades.com and Vitals.com.
After you find another doctor, before you get a second opinion, you’ll need to have your current doctor’s office send your medical records ahead to the second doctor, or you may have to pick them up and deliver them yourself. That way, you won’t have to repeat the tests you already had. But, if the second doctor wants you to have additional tests performed as a result of your visit, Medicare will help pay for these tests too.
For more information, see the Medicare publication “Getting a Second Opinion Before Surgery” at Medicare.gov/publications – type in 02173 in the Keyword or Product number box.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.