Medical expenses increase unpredictably with age, so the crystal ball gets very hazy when trying to foretell how much you’ll need in retirement.
A new study helps clear things up: a single older American spends about $39,000 on average for medical care in the final five years of life, or about $7,800 a year. For couples in which one spouse has died, $51,000 was spent during that spouse’s final years, or about $10,000 annually.
These out-of-pocket expenses, which were reported by surviving spouses and family members, are for health care not covered by Medicare: insurance premiums, hospital and physician copayments and deductibles, and expenses for medications, nursing homes, and in-home care.
The data also show that the financial burden on older people varies greatly, not just depending on marital status but also income. High earners spend more than $100,000 in their last five years, reflecting the large amounts paid out by those who need – and can afford – long-term care.
The authors conclude that end-of-life medical expenses subject a significant minority of older Americans to “considerable financial risk.” Their evidence: for 43 percent of the people they studied, the medical bills accumulated during their last years exceeded the value of their financial assets, excluding home equity. …Learn More
Prior research has established that agents tend to sell the financial product that will pay them the highest commission. A new study on India’s life insurance market advances the ball by focusing on the quality of one high-commission product agents recommend and concludes that it’s wrong for the client.
The researchers sent trained auditors into the field posing as customers seeking insurance and then analyzed the advice they received. The auditors’ meetings with agents revolved around life insurance, specifically two types of policies: term and whole life.
In a term policy, the individual pays a premium to ensure a set dollar amount goes to a surviving wife or children if the customer dies. Like term policies, whole life policies also cover the risk of death, but insurers charge a higher premium to provide an additional service: the extra premium is invested on behalf of the client, who accumulates a cash balance that he can later redeem.
The researchers said term insurance is much more valuable, if customers in India take what they save on its lower premium and invest in the government’s savings certificates, earning a higher return than they would get from the insurance company.
Yet the researchers found that just 5 percent of the customer-auditors were advised to only buy term policies when that’s what best suited their needs. …Learn More
New research has uncovered one reason for the alarming rise in credit card use among older Americans: medical bills.
When people age 50 or older experience “health shocks” – newly diagnosed medical conditions – their credit card balances rise, according to research published in the Journal of Consumer Affairs. The worse the medical condition, the more they charge.
A mild, new medical problem, for example, adds $230 to credit card bills – that’s a 6.3 percent increase on a starting balance of $3,654. If the new condition is severe, balances increase by $339, or 9.3 percent.
Separately, the researchers looked at the effect of out-of-pocket medical costs, such as copayments for doctor visits and prescriptions not covered by private insurance or Medicare. For each $100 that those costs increase, about $4.50 winds up on the cards, according to Hyungsoo Kim at the University of Kentucky, WonAh Yoon at the Samsung Life Retirement Research Center in Seoul, Korea, and Karen Zurlo at Rutgers University.
Their findings shed new light on why more older Americans, who have the greatest medical needs, are becoming reliant on credit cards with their high interest rates. …Learn More
Getting or keeping health insurance is central to many of the major decisions that working Americans make.
Canadian and European governments provide universal health care to their citizens, but this country has relied heavily on employers for health insurance, and only about two-thirds of them provide it. It’ll be fascinating to see how health care reform changes our decisions about work, starting a business, college, and individual finances when more Americans have access to coverage in 2014.
Research years ago established the influence of employer health insurance on the workplace. When employees are covered at work, job turnover is lower – workers know health care is a big thing to give up. There’s also newer evidence that people on the disability rolls, who receive health care as part of that federal benefit, are more likely to go back to work if they live in a state with better access to health insurance in the private market.
Retirement is another big decision driven by one’s health insurance options. Medicare eligibility at age 65 can trigger the decision, new research shows: people working for employers without any health benefits for their retirees are more likely to retire at 65, according to a paper by economists Norma Coe of the University of Washington’s School of Public Health and Matt Rutledge of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which supports this blog.
“We interpret this finding as evidence that Medicare eligibility persuades people to retire, because they can begin receiving federal health coverage,” Coe and Rutledge write. …Learn More
As I sat in an orthopedist’s office last week watching the doctor poke and prod my mother’s legs – an irritated nerve may be causing her severe pain – this thought struck me: long-term care is often an unspoken topic but one of enormous magnitude.
I’ve always taken for granted that my active mother, who plays a killer game of bridge, wouldn’t need much medical attention for another 15 years. I have evidence of this, I’d convince myself: her mother lived to age 92 and some uncles lived even longer. The pain makes it difficult for my mother to walk her dog, though she gamely hobbles through her day and even insists on league bowling on Wednesdays.
It’s so much easier to shove aside worries about long-term care for the elderly – our own or our parents’ – than it is to contemplate the financial and deeply emotional issues required to care for an aging parent. The video below tells a true story about what happens when the requirements of care slam us hard, as they often do.
Violet Garcia is a single mother of Filipino descent living in Kodiak, Alaska, which is situated on an enormous island south of Anchorage. The public school worker cares for her elderly mother, who can’t be left alone. Garcia aspires to send her middle son away to college soon, but that will create a problem on Sundays, when he takes care of his grandmother so his mother can run errands. …
More than half of baby boomers and Generation Xers do not realize how much they are likely to pay out of their own pockets for medical bills after they retire.
Many “were seriously underestimating the amount of savings they would need to accumulate in order to cover health in retirement,” according to what may be the first comprehensive survey and analysis of what Americans expect to pay – and how far off their estimates are.
The good news is that Medicare pays roughly 60 percent of retirees’ total costs. The bad news is that they have to somehow cover the other 40 percent, which is particularly expensive for those who live longer (read women).
If this new study carries one big message, it is that boomers need to learn more about what will certainly be one of their biggest retirement expenses. For example, by 2020, the range of out-of-pocket spending is expected to vary from $2,453 per year for a typical person with low health care needs to $7,272 for the typical high spender. Boomers also may not be aware that the bite that Medicare premiums take out of their monthly Social Security checks will increase sharply by 2020.
The new analysis of the disparity between future retirees’ expectations and what they’re facing was conducted by law professors Allison Hoffman at the UCLA School of Law and Howell Jackson at the Harvard Law School. …Learn More
Rich and poor retire at vastly different ages – nine years in the most extreme case.
A rich man in excellent health works three years longer than a poor man in excellent health – that’s a fairly long time when one is talking about the decision to retire. But if both men are unhealthy, the difference is much larger. The rich man works nine years longer than his low-earning counterpart.
This complex interplay between one’s financial and physical conditions can be seen in the above chart, which shows retirement ages for American households in five income groups, rich to poor. Among financial planners and prospective retirees, as well as academics, any discussion about the retirement decision is typically dominated by how much a person earns and saves during his or her lifetime. Health and medical expenses are usually a given.
That is “too simplistic,” said Ananth Seshadri, an economist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
The chart, taken from a paper by Seshadri and his Wisconsin colleague, John Karl Scholz, for the Retirement Research Consortium, also dramatizes the complex impacts on various groups that would occur if Congress were to raise the eligibility age for Medicare, which it is considering among dozens of other deficit-reduction proposals.
Think about the working man in heavy industry. Research has shown that men in physically demanding jobs, such as aluminum workers, often are forced to retire earlier out of poor health or sheer exhaustion.
But as a wealthy man ages, he is able to pay for good medical care for his heart or hip problem, which enables him to delay retiring. Some people, not entirely consciously, also may choose higher-paying employment – or they may save more – in anticipation that they will have big medical bills when they’re older, Seshadri said.
“People get earnings shocks, but more importantly people get health shocks,” he said. “Medical expenses are a big deal later in life.”
And a primary consideration when one is thinking ahead about when to retire.
Click here for another research paper by the Retirement Research Consortium showing that access to Medicare is a primary consideration when one is thinking ahead about when to retire.
Full disclosure: The research cited in this post was funded by a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) through the Retirement Research Consortium, which also funds this blog. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the blog’s author and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government. Learn More