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How Much Should You Plan On For Retirees’ “Out of Pocket Medical Costs”?


How Much Should You Plan On For Retirees’ “Out of Pocket Medical Costs”?

For those outside the caregiving world, there is a lot of confusion about this cost. Calculations abound in retirement planning circles for helping your clients ensure that they have enough for the things they are likely to need medically. The usual calculations outline Medicare Part A premiums (deducted from Social Security payments), Medicare Part B supplemental health insurance premiums, also called “Medigap” and for medication expenses, as some are not covered my Medicare. In plain English, this means that your client’s Social Security is less to them when the Medicare payment comes out and they have to pay out of pocket for the other kind of insurance that covers outpatient care, clinic and doctor visits, as well as prescription meds.

OK what’s wrong with these calculators? Can’t you rely on them?

I think for an unusually healthy person who is your client, one who needs little care and has no chronic illnesses, they would be fine. I’m not sure where the folks making up the calculations get their statistics but I think they grossly underestimate the real costs of out of pocket medical care in retirement.

From personal experience with thousands of elders I visited at home as a nurse over a career, I did not see much of the unusually healthy. What I did see was the average person then taking numerous medications, having multiple chronic conditions and being at risk for those getting worse with age. And now, decades later, we live longer, have more health risks as a result of greater longevity and we have to pay more for the problems that go along with living to be 100. We have better diagnostics and we can catch and treat conditions more. That means more out of pocket expenses for those exotic tests Medicare will not cover. That also means more and more drugs being prescribed to manage and control chronic illness. They work, but we pay. You would be amazed at what Medicare does not cover.

Here’s the message I want every retirement planning advisor to heed: you cannot predict how much out of pocket medical expense your client will have unless you really know a lot about both their genetic disposition and their health habits and condition.

And then it’s only an educated guess. How educated are you?

We do know that the way we age is about 30% due to our genetics. The other 70% of the picture is directed by how we choose to live. That means what we eat, how much we move our bodies, how we manage stress, how we socialize and how we succeed or not in our relationships with others. All of these factors affect our health and longevity and consequently, how much it’s going to cost to keep living with conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, arthritis, etc.

We haven’t even touched on the subject of Alzheimer’s disease. If you are calculating out of pocket medical I’ll bet you never calculate what it costs to care for someone at home 24/7 with specialized skill for dealing with this devastating disease. It can last 20 years. Nursing home care and caring for a person with any serious illness at home is long term care. That is not in the calculations in those handy tables describing the out of pocket medical costs for an average couple retiring at the age of 65 and living to be 85.

Here’s an example. Mort is 95. He has multiple health issues and early dementia. He can’t do anything by himself. He has 4 caregivers in shifts every day in his home. He isn’t sure he wants to keep going but he doesn’t want to stop the numerous medications he takes to stay alive. It costs over $250,000 a year just for the caregivers, not for the other costs of housing, utilities, transportation via handicap van and such. And the out of pocket medical is still there. The dentist, the hearing aids, the medications that no insurance pays for, the stair lift, the ramp on the front of the house, the high-end wheelchair and more.

If you want to help your clients plan so they won’t run out of assets, you’ll need to be realistic. Lots of cash may need to be available at the later end of life. It is more likely than not. Forget reliance on a calculator or use one that has the highest number you can find. Then add on expenses like Mort’s and you’re on the right track.

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