Ah, the start of a new year. There’s nothing quite like the energy and sense of renewal that comes with placing that crisp new calendar on the wall. For many of us, January is also our chance to start to make up for weeks of overindulgence during the holidays.
It’s that combination of fresh energy and tight waistbands that leads to our well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions – those optimistic and often lofty goals we set for ourselves to help us achieve the kind of life we seek in the year ahead. Trouble is, by mid-February, 80 percent of us have given up, falling back into our old habits and feeling a combination of disappointment and disgust.
Determined to make this year different? You could study up on psychological techniques in an effort to develop rock-solid self-discipline, or you could take a decidedly more practical approach by using readily available tools that could give you an edge in your quest to stay motivated and on track to attaining your goals for the year ahead.
If you decide to go the practical route, you might be surprised to learn that those tools can be found in your Medicare benefits. Read on to learn how maximizing your benefits could help you achieve some of the most common New Year’s resolutions.
Resolution No. 1: Lose weight and get fit.
No resolutions list would be complete without this one, and for good reason. It’s typically around late December when the stark reality sets in: all those holiday parties and rich meals have officially tipped the scales and padded our waistlines.
Exercise is a key part of the equation if you want to finally get out of those elastic-waist pants and back into your jeans. Only problem is, most of us can come up with a whole host of excuses for not making exercise part of our daily routine, with the expense of a gym membership one that’s frequently cited by people living on a fixed income.
If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage or Medicare supplement plan, you might not be able to use that excuse anymore. Many plans include a gym membership as part of their plan benefits, giving their members access to fitness centers in their area at either no extra cost or a discounted rate. Most UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members, for example, can take advantage of fitness benefits through SilverSneakers or Optum Fitness Advantage. Those gym memberships typically come complete with all of the amenities and services available to other gym-goers, including cardio equipment, strength machines and group classes.
Taking advantage of this plan benefit could have you well on your way to a trimmer and more energized you by spring. And if your weight has crept up to the point that your BMI, or body mass index, is 30 or above, you’re also eligible for Medicare-covered counseling sessions to help you lose weight. You can figure out your BMI using the CDC’s BMI calculator. Talk with your doctor to see if this sort of counseling could be right for you.
Resolution No. 2: Make 2018 your healthiest year yet.
Many of us have the best of intentions when it comes to our health. We know all the things we should do – visit our primary care doctor for an annual check-up, get the preventive screenings we need and so on. Yet with our busy lives, it can be all too easy to push our health to the back-burner while we prioritize all the other people and activities that need our attention.
Fortunately, Medicare is designed to make it as affordable as possible to get the preventive care you need. And that can make a huge difference to your health and well-being by catching health issues early, when they’re usually easier to treat.
Original Medicare (Parts A and B) covers an annual wellness visit as well as some preventive screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies. Your annual wellness visit is a good opportunity to sit down with your doctor and develop a plan to help you achieve your best health in the year ahead.
In addition to services covered under Original Medicare, many Medicare Advantage plans provide additional benefits, such as a full annual physical as well as dental, hearing and vision coverage. And some plans will even schedule doctor visits for you and bring preventive care right into your living room, through in-home care or telemedicine appointments that let you address minor health concerns through a video chat with a doctor or nurse.
By being an early bird and getting these appointments out of the way in January and February, you’ll get the dual benefit of peace of mind plus the entire rest of the year to implement the plan you developed in partnership with your doctor. It’s a win-win.
Resolution No. 3: Save more money/Get out of debt.
This is another one of those resolutions that’s directly tied to the holidays. All those gifts you bought may have left your January credit card statements extra-lengthy. And life can get expensive any time of year, particularly as our health care costs creep up as we get older.
With Original Medicare covering only about 80 percent of our Part B expenses for services like doctor visits and lab tests, that remaining 20 percent we’re responsible for covering can really add up, especially when you consider that there’s no annual limit on those out-of-pocket costs. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why nearly a third of people surveyed by UnitedHealthcare last summer said they’ve paid more out of pocket for their health care needs after enrolling in Medicare than they had expected to.
Fortunately most people can save money on health care in a variety of ways. If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, keep the following tips in mind:
- Take advantage of cost savings on prescription drugs. Most Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage, and many offer home delivery pharmacy benefits that can be a great way to save money – not to mention trips to the pharmacy. Some allow you to order a three-month supply of medication for a lower cost than you would pay if you got the same supply at a local drug store. And if your doctor prescribes a high-cost medication, ask if a cheaper alternative is available that could work just as well, such as a generic or a drug on a lower tier of your plan’s formulary (the list of covered drugs).
- Choose doctors and hospitals that have a relationship with your plan. Most Medicare Advantage plans work with a group of doctors and hospitals to coordinate their members’ care. Plans negotiate lower reimbursement rates with these doctors and hospitals, which means members pay a lower cost when they access care. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer out-of-network coverage, but your costs for your care are usually higher. So staying in-network when you need care is one of the best things you can do to manage your health care costs.
- Look for extra plan discounts on everyday health care items and services. You might be able to rack up savings by taking advantage of discounts your plan offers on things you already use or need, such as vitamins, hearing aids and alternative medicine services like acupuncture. You could save thousands of dollars a year just by taking advantage of your plan’s hearing aids discount given that Original Medicare doesn’t cover the cost of hearing aids.
Resolution No. 4: Less stress. More happiness.
You might be scratching your head at this point. After all, what does Medicare have to do with de-stressing? As it turns out, more and more Medicare Advantage plans are taking a keen interest in helping their members manage their emotional well-being given the direct correlation between our mental health and our physical health. So check to see if your plan offers any resources to help members manage their stress.
For example, UnitedHealthcare offers a health and wellness experience called Renew that’s designed to support members’ efforts to live a happy, healthy life. As part of the experience, members can access a wide variety of articles, videos and other online tools that can help them infuse more positivity into their life. For a taste of what the program offers, check out www.RenewPositivity.com where you’ll find everything from positive messages and photos to brighten your day to music playlists that can enhance your mood.
Resolution No. 5: Kick the habit.
If you smoke, you know you should quit. Make 2018 your year! Medicare covers up to eight face-to-face visits per year with a doctor or other health care practitioner who can provide counseling to help you make cigarette and other tobacco use part of your past. That personalized, one-on-one attention can make a big difference. So if you’ve tried to quit on your own in the past but struggled, consider taking advantage of these free counseling sessions.
The bottom line
The secret to sticking to your New Year’s resolutions may just lie in your Medicare benefits. So rather than rely on sheer will-power alone, put those benefits to use to help you stay on track toward your goals. When you wind out 2018 a thinner, happier and healthier version of yourself, you’ll probably wonder why you waited so long to make Medicare your secret weapon in conquering your resolutions once and for all.
Plans are insured through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or one of its affiliated companies. For Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plans: A Medicare Advantage organization with a Medicare contract and a Medicare-approved Part D sponsor. Enrollment in these plans depends on the plan’s contract renewal with Medicare.
This information is not a complete description of benefits. Contact the plan for more information. Limitations, copayments, and restrictions may apply. Benefits may change on January 1 of each year.
Consult a health care professional before beginning any exercise program. Availability of the SilverSneakers program varies by plan/market. Refer to your Evidence of Coverage for more details. Tivity Health and SilverSneakers are registered trademarks or trademarks of Tivity Health, Inc., and/or its subsidiaries and/or affiliates in the USA and/or other countries. © 2017 Tivity Health, Inc. All rights reserved.
Participation in this program is voluntary. Consult your doctor prior to beginning an exercise program or making changes to your lifestyle or health care routine. Equipment and classes may vary by location. Availability of the Optum® Fitness Advantage program varies by plan/market. Refer to your Evidence of Coverage for more details.