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7 Ways to Maximize Medicare Benefits

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Medicare is vital to the health of nearly 60 million Americans. Yet many of its benefits are overlooked, underused or misunderstood.

Consider the annual "wellness" visit, during which a doctor will assess your health risks, take your blood pressure and other routine measurements, check for cognitive impairment, and offer personalized health advice. It's free. Yet less than 11% of Medicare beneficiaries took advantage of the benefit in 2012, according to the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. Recent research suggests that number hasn't budged much since then.

That's not the only Medicare benefit left lying on the examining table. Many healthy seniors pass up a host of free preventive services, ranging from bone mass measurement to cancer screening–"the kinds of things that people don't generally think of if they're not sick," says Bonnie Burns, a consultant at California Health Advocates. Other benefits, such as home health care, often go unused because they have complex eligibility requirements.

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If you need incentives to maximize the bang for your Medicare buck, here are about 6,000 of them: The average traditional Medicare beneficiary enrolled in both Part A and Part B spent $6,150 out-of-pocket on Medicare and Medigap premiums, doctor visits, drugs and other health care needs in 2013, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That number looks even larger when you consider that half of Medicare beneficiaries have annual income below $26,200.

Here are seven ways to get better care for less from Medicare.

SEE ALSO: 13 States That Tax Social Security

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