Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.
Medicare doesn’t cover all your health care costs.
In fact, Medicare Part A and Part B — also known as Original Medicare — includes several coverage gaps.
In general, Original Medicare doesn’t cover:
- Prescription drugs
- Hearing aids
- Most vision care, including eyeglasses and eye exams
- Most dental care
Many private Medicare Advantage plans cover these services, such as eye exams and prescription drug coverage, in addition to Parts A and B benefits.
However, the amount of coverage for these services varies from plan to plan and can be limited.
In general, neither Original Medicare nor Medicare Advantage plans cover:
- Long-term care
- Medical marijuana
- Medical expenses outside the United States
- Most cosmetic surgery
- Sterilization, including a hysterectomy, unless it’s deemed medically necessary
Coverage gaps can quickly add up to huge out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries. Saving money on health care expenses is important, especially if you’re a retiree on a fixed income.
Here are a few ways to save money on the things Medicare may not cover such as eyeglasses, hearing aids and dental care.
Older adults with Original Medicare are mostly on the hook when it comes to paying for dental care.
The federal health insurance program doesn’t pay for routine dental visits, cleanings, fillings, dentures, root canals or most tooth extractions.
Here are four smart ways to save money on dental care with Medicare — without sacrificing that dazzling smile.
1. Visit a Community Health Clinic
Federally funded community health clinics provide reduced-cost or free dental care services to people with low incomes.
Many operate on a sliding scale system while others offer flexible payment plans.
Wait lists can be long, so it’s important to reach out to your local clinic early — preferably before you need urgent care.
You can find a community health clinic in your area by using this search tool.
2. Sign Up for a Dental Savings Plan
Dental savings plans aren’t dental insurance, but if you’re enrolled in Original Medicare, they might be able to save you money.
Here’s how it works.
First, you pay an annual fee for the dental savings plan. Then, you get a 10% to 60% discount on most dental services.
The plan contracts with dentists who agree to reduce their fees, then you pay the participating dentist directly using your discount.
To be clear: You’re still paying out of pocket for those services. But the idea is that you won’t pay as much as you would without insurance.
Crunch the numbers and see if it makes sense to try a dental plan. It might be cheaper to use other discounts instead.
3. Go to a Dental School
Dental schools across the country offer quality work at a fraction of the price.
You can save big by letting a dental student clean your teeth. Licensed dental instructors help students every step of the way, so you’ll be in good hands.
Dental schools can offer a variety of services, including cleanings, X-rays, oral cancer screenings, fluoride treatments and oral exams.
There’s no guarantee that a dental program in your area currently offers free or reduced dental care. You’ll need to contact each program directly to see what’s available.
When you call, make sure to ask about any fees upfront.
4. Look for Coupons and Ask About Discounts
A quick search on Groupon for dental services in Phoenix, Arizona, showed numerous X-ray, exam and cleaning packages for $40 to $80. Several offices offered 35% off tooth extractions and dentures.
It’s also smart to ask if your current dentist offers any discounts.
Dentists may reduce their fees, offer a less expensive treatment, help you set up a payment plan or provide a sliding scale option. Ask if you can receive a discount for referring a friend or paying with cash. Or see if they’ll reduce their rate if you leave a positive online review.
However, if payment is still due at the time of service, you could use a Care Credit Card to cover the cost. Care Credit works like a regular credit card for medical and dental expenses but with 0% APR options based on your credit score.
Hearing Aids and Exams
Hearing aids are expensive — and Original Medicare doesn’t cover them.
These devices can cost upwards of $2,000 per ear. Ouch!
Thankfully, there are a few ways to save money on hearing aids, including a new class of over-the-counter devices available without a prescription.
1. Check Out Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids
As of last October, a new class of over-the-counter hearing aids hit store shelves.
Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, said OTC hearing aids could save consumers about $2,876 on average for a pair.
These new FDA-approved devices will be equipped with the same basic technology as traditional hearing aids. However, these OTC devices will be available without a fitting or hearing exam.
OTC hearing aids will be available to adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. They’re not meant for everyone or every situation, kind of like drugstore reading glasses.
You’ll be able to find over-the-counter hearing aids online, at pharmacies and in retail stores.
2. Visit Costco
Costco’s wholesale pricing on prescription hearing aids is hard to beat.
The store’s private brand, Kirkland Signature, sells hearing aids for about $1,400 per pair — about half the price you’d pay elsewhere for a name-brand equivalent. Free hearing tests are also available.
Not every Costco location has on-site audiologists or hearing specialists, and you’ll need an appointment. You’ll also need to sign up for a Costco membership, which starts at $60 a year.
3. Apply for the Miracle-Ear Foundation’s Gift of Sound Program
The Miracle-Ear Foundation’s Gift of Sound program provides hearing aids for adults with hearing loss.
You can qualify if your income is under 200% of the federal poverty level with limited assets. For reference, 200% of the federal poverty level is $27,180 for a single person or $36,620 for a two-person household.
You need to contact your local Miracle-Ear store before starting an application. Supporting documentation from a hearing care professional and an application fee of $150 is required.
For more information about the Gift of Sound program along with eligibility requirements, click here.
Eyeglasses and Eye Exams
If you have a serious eye disease like cataracts or glaucoma, Original Medicare will generally pay for treatment.
But that’s not the case for routine eye exams and glasses.
You’ll be responsible for these out-of-pocket costs, so it’s important to save as much money as possible.
Here are three smart ways to save money on Medicare vision coverage.
1. Bust Out Your AAA or AARP Membership Card
AAA and AARP members can receive discounts on eye exams and glasses at participating LensCrafters stores and other retailers nationwide.
Members of AAA and AARP can get the following discounts at LensCrafters:
- 50% off prescription lenses with the purchase of a frame
- 15% off lenses- or frame-only purchase
- 10% off disposable contact lenses
- 30% off non-prescription sunglasses
AARP members also receive these discounts through other providers:
- $55 comprehensive eye exam at participating independent eye doctors (Use this tool to find a location near you.)
- $10 off a complete pair purchase at Target Optical
- 10% off contact lenses at Target Optical
- $10 off non-prescription sunglasses at Target Optical
- 30% off a complete pair of glasses at Glasses.com (Use code RP_AARP30_GL at check-out.)
2. Check Out Cheap Online Eyeglasses Retailers
Buying eyeglasses online can save you hundreds of dollars.
Some online retailers, like Zenni Optical, offer single prescription glasses starting at just $7.
Many of these sites offer virtual “try on” features and come with convenient return policies so you can find frames and lenses that work for you.
According to a survey from Consumer Reports, people who bought glasses online paid a median of $91, while those who shopped in-store spent $234.
3. Visit Walmart or Costco
Most Costco and Walmart locations have optical centers with affordable pricing on eye exams and glasses.
At Walmart, eye exams average about $75, but prices vary by location.
Costco eye exam costs also vary, but you can expect to pay about $65 for an exam.
Both stores also offer a wide selection of lenses and frames. You can usually snag a pair of single-vision lenses with generic frames for less than $50.
Prescription drugs can be pricey. If it feels like you’re overpaying at the pharmacy, here are three ways to save money on prescription drugs.
1. Use GoodRx
GoodRx is a popular app that helps people save money on prescriptions.
GoodRx can’t be combined with Medicare, but you can use the app instead of insurance to receive discounts.
Using GoodRx instead of your Medicare coverage might make sense if:
- Your medication isn’t covered by Medicare.
- GoodRx prices are lower than your Medicare copay.
- You won’t reach your annual deductible this year.
If you decide to use GoodRx instead of Medicare, tell the pharmacist to run the order as a self-pay or cash transaction. Then present the GoodRx coupon on your phone to receive the discount.
2. Find a Patient Assistance Program
Patient assistance programs — which are administered by pharmaceutical companies — can offer free or discounted medications to those who qualify.
Medicare has an online tool you can use to find pharmaceutical assistance programs.
Eligibility for each program is based on several factors including your income, medical insurance status and location.
If you take expensive name-brand drugs, you can also contact the drug company to see if they offer any manufacturer rebates or coupons for your medications.
3. Make Sure You’re in a Good Part D Plan
If you’re paying a lot for your medications, you might want to check out your current coverage and compare Part D prescription drug plans.
The best way to find a drug plan that fits your needs is to use Medicare.gov’s Plan Finder Tool.
Why is it important to review your Medicare coverage every year or so?
Private plan providers can adjust costs from year to year. They can raise your deductible or tweak the pricing tiers of specific medications.
If one of your drugs is dropped or changes tiers in the drug plan’s formulary, you could end up with much higher copays.
This Medicare Plan Finder tool lets you compare costs and coverage among stand-alone Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans in your area side by side.
You can get a customized estimate of your monthly costs based on the medications you take and the pharmacies you use.
You can make changes to your coverage each year during Medicare open enrollment, which runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7.
If you need help picking a Part D plan or comparing your options, you can reach out to your State Health Insurance Assistance Program. They are federally funded programs staffed by trained nonprofit volunteers.