Strategic Financial Planning

April 26, 2011

Retirement health costs stabilize – for now

Perhaps one of the most difficult financial situations to plan for is medical expenses in retirement. It’s an expense we can’t predict, because we don’t know what health conditions we will have in retirement. But for those trying to plan, there is good news.

The latest estimate for the cost of health care in retirement is less than it was a year ago. According to Fidelity Investments, a 65-year-old couple retiring this year will need $230,000 to pay for medical expenses throughout retirement, not including nursing home care. That’s an 8 percent decline from last year’s $250,000 estimate.

The decline is attributed to Medicare changes under recent health care reform. The change reduced expenses for prescription drugs.

“While the savings generated through the health care reform laws is a welcome relief to many seniors, it should be considered a one-time adjustment, at least for the time being,” Brad Kimler, executive vice president of Fidelity’s Benefits Consulting business, said in a news release. “Today’s workers still face the prospect of significant medical expenses in retirement and must begin to include those costs in their retirement plan strategies.”

Kimler added that we should expect health care expenses to continue to rise as medical services continue to see price increases.

In the meantime, seniors now can enjoy those drug savings. Beginning this year, the law offers a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs that fall into the “donut hole” — the gap in Medicare between $2,840 and $4,550. This gap will further be reduced until eliminated in 2020.

The concept of the government helping to reduce medical costs isn’t extending to nursing-home expenses, however. This is a big misconception among Americans, who often mix long-term care with medical care. They are not the same. Still, 45 percent of those between 40 and 64 expect the government to pay their long-term care costs, according to a recent Thrivent Financial survey of 2,000 adult Americans (including 745 pre-retirees).

“Many who expect that government will foot the bill for their future long-term care may be unpleasantly surprised,” Mona Diebold, manager of long-term care solutions at Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, said in a news release. “While federal and state governments share responsibility for running Medicaid and Medicare programs that may pay for long-term care, restrictions limit who may qualify and when. Often, for example, individuals with personal financial resources first must substantially ‘spend down’ those resources before government programs will aid them.”

An estimated 70 percent of individuals over age 65 will require long-term care services at some point in their lives, according to the National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information.

Filed under: Planning News & Ideas — strategicfp @ 8:33 pm

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