Is Health Insurance Killing Retirement?

Our friends at the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) have just released the findings of their 2004 Health Confidence Survey (HCS), focusing on our attitudes toward America's health-care system. [The study was funded by, among other organizations, AARP, BlueCross BlueShield Association, IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) , Mellon Financial (NYSE: MEL  ) , Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) , and Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) .]

Here are some interesting tidbits from the report:

  • Fully 22% of Americans consider health care to be the most critical issue facing America today. Health care ranks ahead of the economy, the war, education, the budget deficit, and taxes as the most critical issue. It ranks evenly with terrorism/national security.

  • Few Americans give the health-care system top marks. Just 4% of Americans say it is excellent, and another 10% say it is very good, while 30% say it is poor. Americans are now twice as likely as they were in 1998 to indicate it is poor.

  • In 2004, nearly one-half of Americans with health insurance were extremely or very satisfied with their current plan, and more than one-third were somewhat satisfied. [Of course, remember that some 45 million Americans are going without health insurance, so this satisfaction is restricted to a subset of Americans.]

  • Americans are increasingly dissatisfied with the cost of health care. One-fourth of Americans are not at all satisfied with the cost of their health insurance in 2004, compared with fewer than two in 10 in 1998.

  • One-quarter of those experiencing increased costs report they have decreased their contributions to a retirement plan, and almost half report they have decreased their contributions to other savings. Nearly two in 10 say they have had difficulty paying for basic necessities, while three in 10 report difficulty paying other bills. One-quarter indicate they have used up all or most of their savings, and some have borrowed money.

That last item is a biggie. One-quarter of those facing hiked costs have used up most of their savings. People are shifting funds from retirement accounts to health insurance. This is the proverbial rock and hard place, as both health care and retirement funds are indispensible if Americans are to have any kind of decent retirement (and not become financial burdens to society).

What should you do about this? Anything you can. For starters, let your political representatives know that you're concerned about the situation and want some solutions. In the meantime, get more informed about health-care issues, costs, and strategies -- and retirement options, as well. You might find our Rule Your Retirement newsletter handy -- check out a free issue of it. Also informative is the AARP website. Don't leave your future to chance -- learn, and then plan as well as you can.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Pfizer.

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