Thanks a lot, Fidelity Investments.

Just when I was about to enjoy a steaming bowl of spinach-carrot soup, I read that, according to Fidelity's latest calculations, "A 65-year-old couple retiring in 2007 will need approximately $215,000 to cover medical costs in retirement." I'm not planning to retire for perhaps another 20 years, so given the recent growth rate of health-care costs (this estimate alone is 7.5% higher than last year's, and up 34% over 2002's), I'm shaking at the thought of what this picture might look like for me. Are you shaking, too?

Worse, the number was roughly echoed in Fortune magazine, which noted, "Of the $440,000 the average American spends on health care in his lifetime, $280,000 is spent after age 65."

And there's more bad news. Fidelity also calculated that for retirees who rely solely on Social Security, that $215,000 in medical costs would mean having to spend about half of their benefit checks every month on health care. That's a tough nut to crack.

The good news
Fortunately, there are a few bright spots in this dark picture. For starters, note that the $215,000 is for a couple -- two people, not one. Phew. Next, it assumes that they don't have any employer-sponsored retiree health-care coverage. If you have that, your picture may improve considerably. The estimate does include expenses related to Medicare Part B and D premiums, Medicare cost-sharing provisions, and prescription-drug out-of-pocket costs. Excluded are expenses such as over-the-counter medications, most dental services, and long-term care.

Meanwhile, there are ways to prepare for these kinds of costs. One option is the relatively newfangled "Health Savings Account" (HSA), which permits you to sock away pre-tax money into an account earmarked for health expenses. Doing so gives you a lower taxable income and available moola for medical expenses. It has its quirks, though -- such as a requirement that you have high-deductible health-insurance coverage -- so read up. Major banks such as Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), as well as full-service brokerage firms such as Merrill Lynch (NYSE:MER), offer HSAs. Oh, and Fidelity offers them, too, of course.

If you don't qualify for an HSA or you just don't want one, you can still put money into regular investments and let them grow into larger amounts that will be available for your future health-care needs. A simple S&P 500 index fund will give you roughly the market's return, which has averaged about 10% on a compound annual basis over many decades. That's enough to turn $50,000 into $540,000 over 25 years.

Let us help
You can build a comfortable retirement for yourself, and we'd love to help you. I encourage you to take advantage of a free 30-day trial of our Rule Your Retirement newsletter service. It's prepared by Robert Brokamp, a smart and witty guy who distills what you really need to know into a manageable volume each month. A free trial will give you full access to all past issues, allowing you to gather valuable tips and even read how some folks have retired early and well. Robert regularly offers recommendations of promising stocks and mutual funds, too.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. She recently learned that the eyes of goats and octopuses have rectangular pupils. Bank of America is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Try any one of our investing services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool isFools writing for Fools.