How rising healthcare costs are impacting retirement planning

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It’s hard enough getting employees to save for their retirement. It’s even harder to get them to think about how much they need to save for medical expenses in retirement.

“Most Americans don’t think about what the medical component will be for them,” says Robert Grubka, president of employee benefits for Voya Financial, a Denver-based financial consultant. “They often think that Medicare and government-provided healthcare is enough and what people quickly find out is, it is helpful but it doesn’t mean it’s enough.” When people think about their retirement plan, the medical piece is “one of the most surprising aspects of it,” he says.

But talking about managing healthcare costs during post-work years is now a vital element of retirement planning. And it’s one employers need to consider, especially as new statistics shed light on the seriousness of the issue.

As a person’s retirement savings shrinks in retirement, their medical expenses continue to increase, according to Voya Financial’s report “Playing the long game – Understanding how healthcare costs can impact your retirement readiness.” Healthcare costs rose 6.5% in 2017, but inflation only went up 2.4%, Voya found.

“The rapid rise of healthcare costs could have a large impact on quality of life in retirement,” according to the report. Forty-two percent of pre- and post-retirees say that healthcare is their biggest concern, especially since nearly half of retirees or their spouses experience a serious or chronic health problem.

Meanwhile, Medicare data finds that those in their 70s spend about $7,566 per person in healthcare costs annually. That figure more than doubles to $16,145 by the time a person reaches age 96. According to Voya, Medicare will only cover about 60% of all retirement healthcare costs, which means people need to figure out a way to cover that other 40%.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that the average couple will need $259,000 to cover their out-of-pocket medical expenses in retirement. That figure includes premiums and costs related to all Medicare plans and the cost of supplemental insurance. When asked how much they should stock away for medical expenses, 69% of baby boomers and 66% of retirees thought they needed less than $100,000.

As the retirement industry has shifted away from defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution plans, employers have tried to compensate for some of the missing perks of having a pension plan. That includes offering options like life insurance, disability insurance, accident insurance, critical illness insurance or a hospital confinement indemnity.

A 2014 report by the Council for Disability Awareness found that more than 214,000 employers were offering long-term disability insurance plans to their employees in 2013, a slight increase from the previous year.

The other component that is relatively new is the high-deductible health plan that usually comes with a health savings account. The money saved in an HSA can be used for medical expenses in retirement if a person doesn’t use up their balance every year. Any extra funds are invested, just like they would be in a typical retirement plan.

High-deductible health plans make the plan participant more responsible for how those health care dollars are spent. It also has “sped up the recognition of the healthcare issue,” Grubka says.

According to the 2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 29% of covered workers are enrolled in a high-deductible plan with a savings option. Over the past two years, enrollment in these high-deductible plans increased 8 percentage points as enrollment in PPOs dropped 10 percentage points, the report found.

Many times, individuals must pay out most or all of their deductible at once, which could be $2,500 for an individual or $5,000 for a family. That’s when people start taking loans from their retirement plan to help cover costs.

That’s why some of these ancillary products, like critical illness or disability insurance, are so important.

“It is so people can get through the chunky expenses and not get to the point where they have to tap their savings or their retirement plan,” Grubka says.

It’s critical that employees try and determine what all of their expenses will be in retirement. Individuals must try and determine how long they will live, by looking at their family history and making an educated guess. Then they should calculate their projected monthly Social Security payment by setting up an account with the Social Security Administration. They should then add up their expected monthly living expenses like rent/mortgage, groceries and utilities and any healthcare expenses that are not covered by Medicare to come up with a target number.

They should base how much they set aside for retirement on that figure.

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How rising healthcare costs are impacting retirement planning

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