If you pay $250 a month for cable and premium channels, that’s $3,000 a year. Over a 30-year period, the total cost would be $90,000. We don’t tend to think about how much we pay in regular expenses over the long term.
However, that’s how various industry analysts report the cost of healthcare during retirement. Recent estimates for a retiring 65-year-old couple fall between $300,000 and $400,000 to cover healthcare expenses in retirement. At first glance, that’s an intimidating number and implies that pre-retirees need to have this much saved by the time they retire.
Fortunately, when you break down the numbers, that’s not the case. First of all, that estimate includes premiums for Medicare with prescription drug coverage, which are typically deducted from Social Security benefits before they ever hit your bank account. According to T. Rowe Price, Medicare premiums account for 76 percent to 82 percent of most retiree’s healthcare expenses, so a large portion of these costs are paid for outside of your household budget.
The true cost of retiree healthcare expenditures is based on how healthy you remain during retirement. And actually, that’s not necessarily related to savings – it’s more a combination of genetics and peoples’ penchant for healthy living before and during retirement. However, it’s always best to prepare for the worst, so the more money you save and earmark for healthcare expenses, the better off you’ll be.
One way to control your monthly premiums in retirement is to shop and compare Medicare plans each year during open enrollment. It helps to keep a running tab of your out-of-pocket expenses each year so that you can increase your Medicare coverage if your costs start trending higher. Higher coverage might mean higher premiums, but that will lower out-of-pocket costs each year.
The following guide was developed by T. Rowe Price. It estimates how much retirees spend based on different types of Medicare plans using 2021 premiums and data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). Among retirees who enroll in either (1) Medicare Parts A, B and D; (2) Medicare Advantage HMO and Drug Plan; or (3) Medicare Parts A, B, D and Medigap:
- 25 percent will pay less than $500/year in out-of-pocket expenses
- 50 percent will pay less than $1,200/year in out-of-pocket expenses
- 25 percent will pay more than $1,900/year in out-of-pocket expenses
- 25 percent will pay more than $3,900/year in out-of-pocket expenses
As for paying those out-of-pocket expenses, remember that you pay them over time, so it’s not as if you’re paying a large lump sum all at once. One strategy is to fund a savings account with enough money to pay out-of-pocket expenses for the year, based on your prior year’s spending. Then replenish this account each year from other funding sources, such as an annual required minimum distribution (RMD) from a retirement account.
If you have access through your current health plan, pre-retirees can save for healthcare expenses with a health savings account (HSA). Contributions are tax deductible and, over time, you can invest your savings for earnings accumulation. These funds, including investment gains, are never taxed as long as they are used to pay eligible healthcare expenses. The account is particularly useful if you don’t tap it until retirement, when the money can be used to pay for things like dental and vision care, hearing aids, long term care insurance premiums and nursing home costs.
Despite those alarming projections about how much healthcare will cost you in retirement, remember that it can be manageable because it is paid out over time.