Most Retirees Could Struggle to Pay Health Costs

Health Writer
Medically Reviewed

Will you have enough money to pay your health care bills in retirement? If so, you may be among a lucky minority, a new report published this month by the United Health Foundation and Alliance for Aging Research suggests.

It found that 62 percent of current retirees age 65 and up have less money in total retirement savings than they are likely to need for their future health costs alone. And nearly three-fourths of workers between 50 and 64 are doing no better.

Health costs in retirement: The numbers

Part of the problem is that many of us have little idea of how expensive retiree health care can be. Fully 50 percent of retirees and 36 percent of workers surveyed said they didn’t know or had no opinion about how much money they’d need to pay for it.

The new report, “Preparing for Health Care Costs in Retirement,” bases its cost figures on estimates published last August by mutual-fund giant Fidelity Investments. Fidelity projected that a 65-year-old couple retiring today would need $260,000 to cover their health costs for the rest of their lives.

Fidelity, which can be forgiven for having a vested interest in getting Americans to save more for retirement, notes that its estimates don’t include the costs of long-term care. To insure against those, the 65-year-old couple would need an additional $130,000, the company says.

How can this be in the era of Medicare, the federal program that insures most Americans 65 and over? One reason is that while Medicare covers many expenses for retirees, it doesn’t pay for everything. Among its more prominent coverage gaps:

Most dental care and ordinary dentist office procedures.

Eye exams for glasses or hearing tests for hearing aids. Medicare does, however, cover medically necessary eye surgery, such as for cataracts, and hearing exams to assess the need for medical treatment.

Routine foot care.

Long-term care that’s custodial rather than medical in nature. That is, if the only help you need is with daily tasks.

What’s more, even if Medicare does cover a service, patients often face coinsurance, deductibles, and copayments.

Plus, there’s the cost of Medicare itself. For example, while traditional Part A hospital coverage is free for most people who paid Medicare taxes during their working years, Part B medical coverage currently costs $134 a month and up, depending on your income. (People who pay the premium through their Social Security benefits get a discount.) Part D prescription drug coverage requires an additional premium, also based on income.

The bottom line

The takeaway for most of us: Save for retirement until it hurts. And once you do retire, hope that nothing hurts—at least nothing expensive.