Most Americans know how important it is to save money for retirement. Sadly, when setting retirement goals, the majority may be neglecting one of the biggest expenses they'll face in their later years.

This could cause a serious financial shortfall at a time when it's difficult or impossible for retirees to return to work. Here's what the problem is. 

Older man talking to doctor.

Image source: Getty Images.

Americans are forgetting about healthcare, a study shows

A recent study by the website Medical Alert Buyers Guide of more than 1,000 Americans who weren't yet retired found that the majority of those studied are not saving for the healthcare costs they'll likely experience in their later years. 

In fact, while the research revealed over 71% of people were saving for retirement, just 38.1% said they were saving specifically for healthcare costs. Ironically, younger Americans (including those in their 20s) were more likely than those in their 50s to be setting aside money for medical issues. Just 37.3% of people 50 or over indicated they were putting aside money for healthcare, compared with 42.7% of people in their 20s. 

Failing to invest for healthcare can lead to serious financial problems because the costs of care in retirement are likely to be substantial. In fact, the Employee Benefit Research Institute estimated a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2020 with high prescription-drug needs would require around $325,000 to have a 90% chance of being able to pay out-of-pocket costs for medical care. This includes prescription drugs, co-insurance, and Medicare premiums. 

Sadly, many people don't realize they'll need these extra funds because they assume Medicare covers much more than it does. The reality is, there are co-insurance costs, as well as coverage gaps and exclusions that can leave retirees on the hook for thousands of dollars in care each year. And the types of serious illnesses that are likely to lead to major expenses tend to happen late in retirement when going back to work is not possible. 

Don't leave yourself without the money you need for medical care

If you want to make sure your retirement is comfortable and your nest egg isn't exhausted, having dedicated savings for healthcare isn't optional -- it's a goal you should start working on today. 

If you have a qualifying high-deductible health insurance plan (HDHP), your best bet is to max out your contributions to a health savings account (HSA), or get as close as you can, and invest the money. HSAs allow you to contribute with pre-tax dollars and make tax-free withdrawals for medical expenses. They're the only account that allows for pre-tax investments, tax-free gains, and tax-free withdrawals, so they provide significant savings on medical needs. 

Not everyone is eligible for an HSA, though. If you aren't, you can earmark money for medical expenses by increasing the amount you're putting in your 401(k), or open a dedicated traditional or Roth IRA that you invest in to cover your health needs as a retiree.

Whatever approach you choose, now is the time to join the minority of Americans saving specifically for healthcare. When you can cover your costs without worry in your later years, you'll be glad you did.