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Factoring Health-Care Costs into Retirement Planning

There are many factors to consider in determining how much you'll need to save in order to enjoy a comfortable and financially secure retirement. One often overlooked retirement expense is the cost of health care. You may presume that when you reach age 65, Medicare will cover most health-care costs. However, Medicare currently only pays for a portion of the cost for most health-care services, leaving a potentially large amount of uninsured medical expenses. Without proper planning, health-care costs can sap retirement income in a hurry, leaving you financially strapped.

How much will you need?

How much you'll spend generally may depend on when you retire, how long you live, your health status, and the cost of medical care in your area. But the costs can add up. You won't have to pay for Medicare Part A hospital insurance (unless you don't qualify and have to buy into the program), but you will likely pay either $96.40 or $110.50 each month in 2011 for Medicare Part B physician's coverage (although you may pay higher premiums based on income and other factors), and an average of $30 per month for Medicare Part D prescription coverage. In addition, there are co-pays and deductibles to consider (e.g., after paying the first $162 in Part B expenses per year, you pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for services thereafter).

The cost of health care is rising. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reports that national health expenditures grew by 4% in 2009. And the CMS Office of the Actuary estimates that out-of-pocket spending is projected to grow at an average rate of 5% from 2015 through 2020.

Will living a healthy lifestyle reduce health-care costs in retirement? Not necessarily. While living a healthy lifestyle may aid in reducing annual health-care costs, that same lifestyle generally promotes longevity, which may translate to higher total health-care expenditures over a longer lifetime. The moral of the story is even if you're healthy, you still face illnesses and diseases, so don't wait until your health begins to fail to plan for these costs in retirement.

What can you do?

It's clear that health care is an important factor in retirement planning. And while you may be able to buy a cheaper car, live in a smaller home, or take fewer vacations in order to stay within your retirement income budget, you can't do without necessary medical care. So what can you do? You can better prepare for these expenses by taking the following steps:

  • Acknowledge that paying for health care in retirement is an issue to consider. Don't presume Medicare and Medigap insurance will cover all your expenses--they probably won't. Include potential health-care costs in your retirement plan.
  • Evaluate your present health and project your future medical needs. That might be easier said than done, but taking stock of your overall health now and factoring in your family's health history may help you determine the type of care you might need in retirement. Are you currently being treated for high blood pressure or diabetes? Do you live a healthy lifestyle? Does heart disease run in your family?
  • Understand what Medicare covers and what it costs. For instance, Medicare (Part A, Part B, and Part D) generally provides benefits for inpatient hospital care, medically necessary doctor's visits, and prescriptions. But Medicare doesn't cover everything. Examples of services generally not covered by Medicare include most chiropractic care, dental or vision care, and long-term care. You'll also have to account for deductibles, co-insurance costs for some services, and a monthly premium for Medicare Parts B and D.
  • Consider the cost of supplemental insurance. Medigap plans are standardized policies sold by private insurance companies that pay for some or all of the costs not covered by Medicare. In addition to Medigap policies, other types of supplemental insurance include long-term care insurance, dental insurance, and vision insurance. The type and amount of coverage that's best for you depends on a number of factors, including how much premium you can afford, what benefits you need, your financial resources, your health, and your anticipated medical needs.
  • Don't forget to factor in the cost of long-term care. The National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information estimates that at least 70% of people over age 65 will require some long-term care services. Medicare does not pay for custodial (nonskilled) long-term care services, and Medicaid pays only if you and your spouse meet income and asset criteria.
  • Save, save, save. You may have already begun saving for your retirement, but if you fail to include the cost of health care in your plan, you're likely leaving out a big expense. Your financial professional can help you figure out how much you may need to save and adjust your retirement planning strategies to account for potential health-care costs in retirement.