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Broken Hip = Bankrupt Retirement?

Seems the only thing more crippling than a broken hip is the hospital bill that accompanies it. That's why you should steer clear of icy patches and leave the snow-shoveling to the neighborhood kids. Here are four more ways to keep broken bones and bad colds from bankrupting your retirement:

Stay healthy: We know, this is a no-brainer. But 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 hip 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 if you're not yet retired, start price-shopping insurance in your area. Not all insurers are licensed to sell directly to the public in all of the states where they operate, but you can start by checking out Blue Cross/Blue Shield, UnitedHealth (NYSE: UNH  ) , Humana (NYSE: HUM  ) , and Aetna (NYSE: AET  ) , to name a few.

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. (And that's not even counting health costs for Fluffy and Fido.)

Dayana Yochim owns none of the companies mentioned here, although now that you mention it, she has been feeling a small twinge in her left hip.

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