Which Is Worse: A Broken Hip or the Bill?

Hey America, are you prepared for retirement?

Comme ci comme ca, according to the fourth annual Allstate "Retirement Reality Check" survey released earlier this month. Although a confident 76% of survey respondents said they were financially "very" or "somewhat" prepared for retirement, their reading glasses clearly lack a rose-tinted hue. Sixty-three percent of survey respondents spanning three generations reported being "very concerned" about being able to afford health care in their golden years.

Go ahead, stay "very concerned," particularly if your retirement plan doesn't include a health-care plan.

Fool retirement guy Robert Brokamp calls health care the Achilles heel of many retirement plans. (He also calls it the "fourth leg" of the retirement stool, but that's not as catchy.) The average 75-and-over household spends 41% more on health-related costs than the average 45-54 household, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey (2002, the most recent data available). And that's with fewer family members living in the household. Those ages 45-54 spend an average of $2,550 annually. The next decade it's $3,007, and from ages 65-74 the average annual tab is $3,588.

Don't expect Medicare to foot the entire bill. Even if you qualify, you'll pay premiums, co-payments, and the entire cost for many medical services. Medicare premiums will shoot up 17.5% in 2005 -- the biggest hike in 15 years. And that which isn't covered by insurance or Medicare comes out of that nest egg you planned to leave to the darling grandkids. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, someone retiring in 2003 would need $37,000 to $750,000 if she has employment-based health insurance and an astonishing $47,000 to $1,458,000 if she will rely on Medigap.

Seems the only thing more crippling than a broken hip is the hospital bill that accompanies it. Want to avoid sticker shock? Prepare for it:

Stay healthy: Duh. Despite Jim Fixx's untimely demise, the best way to cut back on medical costs is to stay out of the doctor's office by exercising, eating right, and wearing your SPF.

Lean on your employer: As far as benefits go, health care is a biggie. See what your current boss offers when it comes time to punch the time clock for the last day. And if interviewing elsewhere, scrutinize the insurance package as closely as your potential paycheck.

Keep working in retirement: In addition to making hipper young friends, going back to work in retirement could net you health-care coverage and access to flexible-spending accounts. Don't discount the importance of the latter. Socking away pre-tax money for medical expenses is like getting a 30% discount off your doctors' bills.

Start a prosthetic savings plan: Read our 60-second guides on opening an IRA and maximizing your 401(k).

And, it goes without saying, avoid icy patches, and leave the snow shoveling to the neighborhood kids.


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