Personal Finance

5 Common Medical Expenses That Medicare Won’t Pay For

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Turning 65 brings access to senior discounts galore, but there is no benefit of senior citizenship quite like Medicare.

The federal program extends subsidized health insurance primarily to folks age 65 and older. But, while Medicare coverage comes with numerous freebies, it is hardly free.

Medicare beneficiaries pay into the system via taxes withheld from their paychecks during their working years. Additionally, Medicare coverage is not all-inclusive: Beneficiaries must cover all or part of certain medical expenses.

If you are already on Medicare, you already know that — perhaps painfully well. But the costs associated with coverage can come as a surprise to folks who have yet to sign up for Medicare.

So, here’s a look at some of the most expensive, most common and most surprising health care costs that Medicare does not cover.

First, though, note that your out-of-pocket costs under Medicare will vary depending on your coverage type. When enrolling in Medicare, you’ll choose between two main types of Medicare:

  • Original Medicare (aka traditional Medicare), which is offered directly by the federal government’s Medicare program
  • Medicare Advantage plans (aka Medicare Part C plans), which are offered by private insurers that are approved by the Medicare program

Medicare Advantage plans must cover all the same services that Original Medicare covers. Some Medicare Advantage plans cover other expenses, too. So, as you read on, remember that some of the following costs may not apply with certain Medicare Advantage plans.

1. Premiums

A senior lifts his eyeglasses in surprise at a bill while working at his kitchen table with a laptop computer
Proxima Studio /

You might be surprised to learn that even federally subsidized health insurance can have premiums, but that is the case with Medicare.

For 2020, the monthly premium for Part B — the component of Medicare plans that primarily covers services you receive outside of a hospital — is $144.60 or more, depending on your income.

Usually, the Part B premium is deducted from your Social Security benefits check.

Seniors with Medicare Advantage usually pay a premium for their plan in addition to the standard Part B premium.

One bit of good news: A vast majority of seniors do not pay a premium for Medicare Part A, which covers inpatient hospital services, as we reported in “3 Big Medicare Costs Just Got Bigger.”

How to lower your costs: The Part B premiums are fixed. There’s nothing you can do about them.

If you have Original Medicare, you have the option to buy a supplemental Medicare health insurance plan, also known as a Medigap plan, which would pay for some expenses that Original Medicare does not cover.

The Part B premium isn’t among the costs that Medigap plans cover, though. So, if you bought a Medigap plan, you will still have to pay the Part B premium — plus the Medigap plan premium.

Still, a Medigap plan is worth the extra cost in some cases — especially if you were to face big medical bills. To learn more, see “How to Pick the Best Medicare Supplement Plan in 4 Steps.”

2. Long-term care

Nursing Home /

Long-term care refers to medical and nonmedical services for people who are unable to perform basic daily tasks like dressing or bathing on their own.

You may receive long-term care in your home, in the community or at an assisted living facility or nursing home.

Like most health insurance plans, Medicare generally does not cover long-term care costs, which are notoriously high.

The national median cost of long-term care ranges from $1,625 per month for adult day health care at a community or assisted living facility, to $8,517 per month for a private room at a nursing home, according to the 2019 Genworth Cost of Care Survey.

How to lower your costs: Start by considering long-term care insurance. For help determining whether it would be a smart buy for you, check out Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson’s advice in “Should I Buy Long-Term Care Insurance?”

3. Dental care

Dental patient
Kulniz /

Some Medicare Advantage plans may cover some dental services. It depends on the specifics of the plan.

Original Medicare does not cover most dental care, procedures or supplies — including:

  • Cleanings
  • Fillings
  • Tooth extractions
  • Dentures
  • Dental plates
  • Other dental devices

There are some exceptions. For example, Original Medicare covers certain dental services that you get while in a hospital. But aside from exceptions, seniors on Original Medicare plans are stuck paying for 100% of their dental expenses.

How to lower your costs: Check out “5 Ways to Slash Dental Care Costs.”

4. Hearing aids

Otolaryngologist putting hearing aid in woman's ear
Pixel-Shot /

Some Medicare Advantage plans may pay for hearing aids, but Original Medicare doesn’t cover them.

So, if you have Original Medicare, you are responsible for 100% of the cost of hearing aids themselves and exams to fit hearing aids.

Original Medicare generally does cover 80% of the Medicare-approved cost of diagnostic hearing exams — meaning those that a health care provider orders to determine whether you need medical treatment. The patient or the patient’s Medigap plan pays the other 20%, though a deductible applies.

How to lower your costs: Check out “How to Save Hundreds of Dollars on Hearing Aids.”

5. Routine vision care

Older woman in eyeglasses
Diego Cervo /

Some Medicare Advantage plans cover some vision-related expenses, but Original Medicare does not cover routine eye exams for eyeglasses or contact lenses. So, 100% of their cost is on you.

More bad news: Original Medicare typically does not cover eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Original Medicare does cover eye exams for patients with diabetes. It also covers tests for glaucoma and macular degeneration. It even covers artificial eyes that your doctor orders. So, a senior on Original Medicare is responsible for only 20% of such expenses, after a deductible.

How to lower your costs: Check out “4 Steps to Finding Stylish and Cheap Eyeglasses.”

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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