The bad news: Fidelity Investments says the average couple will need $220,000 to cover health care costs during retirement.
The good news: This estimate may not apply to you.
For many, a huge concern
When it comes to saving for retirement, too many of the youngest among baby boomers are woefully unprepared for a post-work life. But, they aren't the only group that feels ill-equipped to face their golden years. Overall, 59% of Americans are very concerned about not having enough money in retirement, and 39% worry about paying for normal health care expenses.
Fidelity Benefits Consulting has once again added to that sense of gloom and doom by releasing their annual estimate of retiree health costs. For a 65-year-old couple planning to retire this year, according to Fidelity analysts, the average amount needed to fund health care expenses throughout retirement is about $220,000.
If that isn't scary enough, Fidelity notes that people who retire at age 62 can tack on an extra $17,000 per year until they qualify for Medicare at age 65.
Does this mean you?
The report notes that the news isn't all bad. For one thing, costs have not gone up from last year, and have actually fallen by $20,000 since 2012. Part of the reason for this is because of lower Medicare costs, possibly because fewer people used health care services during the recession.
That's not very comforting, though, and you're probably wondering if this estimate truly applies to you. The answer is: maybe not. Let's take a look, first of all, at how Fidelity came up with its figures.
The estimate is based upon average lifespans of 82 years for men, and 85 for women. The hypothetical "average" couple has no employer-based insurance, and relies on Medicare. Included are costs such as deductibles, coinsurance, premiums for prescription drugs, and various out-of-pocket costs associated with Medicare.
Not mentioned at all is the issue of health, which would naturally hold sway over how much money you and your spouse will spend on care. What if you could actually calculate your expenses, based upon your own personal profile?
Aarp to the rescue
Aarp.org has a dandy analysis tool on its website that allows you to plug in various bits of information to get a better idea of what your retirement health expense profile might look like. I played around with this little gem, and came up with some interesting results.
First, I used an average, 55-year-old female who will retire at age 65 and live in the northeast. For lifespan, I used Fidelity's age of 85; for height and weight, the Metropolitan Life table. My theoretical baby boomer has no bad habits, and no chronic disease.
Total health care costs would accrue to about $144,000 during retirement, with almost $60,000 coming out of this boomer's pocket. An equally healthy male spouse, living to 82 years, would need around $48,000 to cover out-of-pocket expenses. Health costs for this couple would, therefore, be less than half of the amount quoted by Fidelity.
What about people with less than stellar health histories? Well, that's where things start to get pricey. If the man has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and is overweight, those expenses rise to nearly $61,000. If he also smokes, total out-of-pocket expenses skyrocket to more than $77,000.
A great tool, but limited
The calculator allows you to read further about changing your bad health habits, stressing lifestyle changes ahead of medical intervention – though it does suggest you contact your doctor before making any drastic adjustments to your life.
The results are just estimates, of course, and no one can predict catastrophic health problems or accidental injuries. But it can be a very useful, giving you some insight into how being educated and proactive can actually help you improve your health and reduce health-related expenses – a recipe for a happy retirement if I ever heard one.