How Healthcare Costs Can Affect Retirement Planning
Robert W. Bache (aka "Medicare Bob") is founder and chief of sales for Senior Healthcare Direct, an AmeriLife company.
People in their 50s, 60s and 70s wear many hats: taking care of elderly parents, financially supporting grown children, working full- or part-time and volunteering in their communities—all while managing their growing healthcare needs. Baby boomers have redefined retirement, and today it looks completely different than it did a generation ago.
There are reasons for that: People who are of retirement age now face a greater number of post-work years because we’re living longer. Retirement might last decades. Americans who reach age 65 could live another 20 or 30 years according to the CDC. And while that sounds impressive, for many people, rising healthcare costs make these extra years just plain unaffordable.
At the same time, other costs are climbing—in part, triggered by inflation. By some estimates, if healthcare inflation continues to rise at 1.5 times the Consumer Price Index for two years, total lifetime retirement healthcare costs will increase by $85,917. Additionally, it’s more challenging for today’s younger generation to afford schooling and housing, so parents and grandparents who can are helping out. Some have to make tough decisions between spending on their own healthcare needs and leaving a lasting legacy for their kids and grandkids. Others are petrified they’ll outlive the money they’ve saved. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
In this environment of longer life spans and rising costs, it’s critical to think differently about retirement. You want to stay healthy so you can spend time with your family. You also want your retirement dollars to go toward living, not just fending off illness. In that context, retirement planning isn’t a luxury. It can’t be an afterthought. It’s a cost of living.
That’s why I’m adamant that retirement planning today isn’t just about writing your end-of-life wishes or socking away money in a 401(k). It’s about addressing one of the biggest unknowns—healthcare—and building a plan around it. The average cost of healthcare in retirement is far more than you think, and not addressing it in your retirement plan is too risky.
Expect The Unexpected
You might be thinking, “But I’ve always been healthy.” Everybody’s healthy until they’re not. There are numerous health issues that could crop up suddenly even for people who have been the picture of health their whole lives. Look, planning for future healthcare needs isn’t fun, but it’s critical.
Medicare will cover certain healthcare costs, but not everything. Medicare Advantage and Medicare supplement plans can help cover expenses original Medicare doesn’t cover, controlling costs and creating knowns amid many unknowns.
Deciding between a Medicare Advantage plan and a Medicare supplement plan is an important choice. In general, with a Medicare Advantage plan, you pay less of a monthly premium, but a Medicare supplement plan can guarantee your health costs. As long as you pay your monthly premium with a supplement plan, you shouldn’t have any surprise medical bills.
A major healthcare cost as we age is long-term care—the extra help we need when we can’t take care of ourselves fully anymore. What happens if you develop Alzheimer’s or another chronic condition? Many people are shocked to hear that Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care. If they knew this before retirement, they may have made different decisions.
Some of the saddest situations I’ve seen are related to seniors who need long-term care and have run out of money. If their family has exhausted their funds, too, the retiree ends up on Medicaid, living in a facility they don’t want to be in far from home and their loved ones. Forget about being able to pass along a small inheritance to help cover a grandchild’s college tuition. There’s nothing left.
The Best Plan Is An Early One
To prevent scenarios like this, you need to think about how you’ll cover long-term care if you end up needing it, as some of us will. One way to do it is with a long-term care policy. You can get one through a private insurer and it covers your long-term care costs, either in a long-term care facility or at home with a home health aide.
But just like you can’t buy flood insurance the day after a flood, you can’t get long-term health insurance after you’re in a position of needing it. The best time to buy is when you’re in your 40s or early 50s. The younger and healthier you are, the better rates you’ll get. Otherwise, the cost can be prohibitively expensive.
In addition to getting up to speed on the various Medicare options and purchasing long-term care early, here are a few other recommendations I make to people as they plan for retirement:
• Always max out your 401(k) contributions. Do this especially if the company you’re working for matches 401(k) funds. It’s free money and keeps your retirement nest egg growing.
• Think about burial planning. Educate yourself about these costs, which vary widely depending on your location and personal preferences, and put money aside to cover them.
• Meet with a licensed professional planner. Don’t depend on Google for your planning. Meet with a licensed estate, financial or a retirement planner who can look at your situation holistically and help you come up with a plan.
• Get a whole life insurance policy. This type of policy covers you for your whole life versus term life insurance, which only covers you for a certain number of years. Think about it as just another type of insurance you need to protect yourself, like car and home insurance.
Even though I’m only in my 30s, I take pride in being proactive with my retirement planning and making sure arrangements are in place for myself and my family. If you approach retirement strategically and plan ahead, it can be a high-quality period of life filled with new, fulfilling experiences. You can also set up your kids and grandkids for success. You’ll have to ask yourself some tough questions to prepare. But it’s worth it.