October 2, 2013

Men, Women and Medicare: 6 Planning Tips for Couples

Women are less confident, but both men and women need help planning

Although men and women are both reluctant to talk about Medicare and health care planning with their financial advisors, women are more likely to be worried about it, a survey released Wednesday by Allsup found.

Allsup surveyed 1,000 people over 65 for the report and found women are much less confident about their ability to pay for health care in retirement. Just 55% of women say they’re confident about how much they’ve saved, compared with 70% of men.

“Women are more likely to live longer, have fewer financial resources and rely on Social Security as their primary source of income in retirement, so their financial risks are greater as they age,” Mary Dale Walters, senior vice president of Allsup Medicare Advisor, Allsup’s Medicare selection service, said in a statement. “Living longer usually means greater health care expenses in retirement, such as more premiums.”

When asked to name specific retirement concerns, 63% of women said they were concerned about the future of Medicare coverage, compared with 59% of men. Paying for long-term care (46%) and health care (43%), and outliving their retirement funds (40%) were other major concerns.

“Advisors working with couples need to understand that not only may each spouse’s concerns be different, the optimum health care coverage for each also may be different,” Walters said. “For example, after decades of sharing the same private employer health insurance, couples may be better served by having different Medicare plans as they age into Medicare because their health care needs — and costs — are going to be different.”

Medicare open enrollment runs Oct. 15 to Dec 7. Allsup identified six ways advisors can help their senior clients prepare.

  1. Talk about it. Allsup found only 29% of women and 27% of men have brought up Medicare with their financial advisor.
  2. Recognize the difference between men and women. Allsup found women’s primary Medicare concern was about increases in monthly premiums, while men worried more about out-of-pocket expenses rising higher than they thought they would. “Understanding the differences in attitudes, as well as having a realistic understanding of Medicare costs and health care expenses, is one way financial advisors can further help clients when planning for retirement,” Walters said.
  3. Make Medicare planning part of overall retirement planning. A quarter of women and 30% of men have allocated for health care increases in their retirement plan.
  4. Educate and correct misconceptions. Clients may be confused about what exactly they’re getting for their premiums. “Paying a lot of money in premiums—‘just in case’ or in lieu of an on-point review and assessment of health care needs—is not an effective financial planning strategy,” Walters said. “Your clients may have biases that affect their decisions, such as Medigap versus Medicare Advantage, or a recognizable national insurance company versus a regional plan with an unfamiliar name. Help them recognize how this can affect costs.”
  5. Include planning for a spouse’s death. Allsup noted clients with retiree health care coverage especially need to focus on how this will affect their coverage.
  6. Make ongoing reviews of Medicare needs. Remind clients that open enrollment isn’t a one-time event. They need to review their needs each year as their health, financial and living situations change. “It’s vital that every senior understands that the annual enrollment period presents a critical opportunity to confirm they are paying for coverage they actually use and have a Medicare plan that doesn’t cost them hundreds or thousands of dollars more than they need to pay for good coverage,” Walters said.

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