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Can you afford health care in retirement?

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The average couple retiring at 65 years old can expect to pay $280,000 in health care expenses throughout their retirement, according to the latest analysis from Fidelity Investments.

That number represents a hefty chunk of most baby boomers’ retirement income and savings. The Economic Policy Institute reports that families with a head of household between ages 56 and 61 have mean retirement savings of $163,000. Social security can help bridge the gap, but could still leave many seniors wondering how they’re going to foot large medical bills, not to mention enjoy their golden years.

When planning for health care costs in retirement, it helps to look at all sources of income and expenses, including insurance premiums and long-term care.

Income sources

Hopefully, you’ve been saving a portion of your income into a tax- advantaged retirement account for most of your career. Workers over age 50 who haven’t saved enough — experts recommend saving six times your annual salary before retirement — can make catch-up contributions of an additional $6,000 annually for a 401(k) and $1,000 for a traditional or Roth IRA.

Social Security offers an average of $1,329 per month, though your benefits check may be larger or smaller depending on your retirement age, the age you start claiming benefits and your income history.

Health care costs

Seniors become eligible for Medicare at 65, but the average retirement age in 2017 was 62. This creates a retirement-cost gap as early retirees pay pricey insurance premiums until they become eligible for Medicare.

At 65, most retirees enroll in Medicare Parts A (hospital insurance), B (medical insurance) and D (prescription drug coverage). Most Americans do not have to pay a premium for Part A. However, Part B and Part D coverage both have premiums that vary depending on your income.

Medicare doesn’t cover all your health care expenses. In addition to premiums, seniors must pay many health costs out of pocket, such as dental services (unless you have a separate dental plan), eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids and copays for doctor’s visits, tests and procedures.

The cost of care in retirement varies depending on age and general health. According to, the average Medicare beneficiary with a previous heart attack paid more than $1,000 a month in out-of-pocket costs, while a person in good health paid $635 a month.

Seniors over age 65 have a 70 percent chance of needing some type of long-term care service in their lifetime. Annual costs for long-term care range from $49,000 for a home health aide to nearly $100,000 for nursing home care. If you have a family history of chronic conditions or suffer from health problems, it may be wise to consider long-term care insurance.

Act now to afford care later

Unfortunately, with increased medical costs, longer life expectancy and uncertainty over Medicare funding, that $280,000 health-care price tag will likely increase. Seniors should act now to ensure they have the means to pay medical bills as they age.

Here are some steps you can take:

>> Maximize catch-up contributions to retirement accounts.

>> Practice preventive care: quit smoking and drinking, get your flu shot, eat healthfully and make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk factors or manage chronic conditions.

>> Review your life insurance policy. If your kids are grown and you’ve paid off your mortgage, downsize your policy for lower payments.

>> Open a health savings account if you have a qualifying high-deductible health insurance plan. Account contributions are pre-tax or tax-deductible, grow tax-free and can be withdrawn tax-free for eligible expenses.

By planning and preparing for health care costs, you can put yourself in a better financial situation to afford the care you need for a healthy and enjoyable retirement.

David Kimura is the CUSO Financial Services LP (CFS) investment program manager for Hawaii State Investment Services at Hawaii State Federal Credit Union providing investment, retirement and financial planning services to members. He can be reached at or (808) 447-8083.

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