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Some Boomers Have Eyes Closed To Post-Retirement Health Costs

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Financial services clients over age 55 seem to have a different perspective than younger clients on what post-retirement health care really will cost.

Researchers at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, Washington, and Mathew Greenwald & Associates Inc., Washington, have included figures supporting that conclusion in an age comparisons fact sheet published in conjunction with the 2007 Retirement Confidence Survey report.

Pollsters interviewed 1,001 U.S. workers ages 25 and older for the survey.

The EBRI and Mathew Greenwald researchers then compared the 2007 results with results from a similar survey conducted in 1997.

The researchers detected many different kinds of apparent overconfidence in retirement readiness.

The researchers found, for example, that 62% of current workers expect to receive a defined benefit pension when they retire, even though only about 41% said they or their spouses are enrolled in defined benefit pension plans.

“One-third of those people think they’re going to get a pension benefit that doesn’t exist,” says Dan Houston, an executive vice president in the retirement and investor services operation at Principal Financial Group Inc., Des Moines, Iowa.

Analysts at Fidelity Investments, Boston, have estimated that workers will need more than $200,000 to cover post-retirement health care costs–without even including long term care costs–but only 24% of the EBRI/Mathew Greenwald survey participants said they expect to need more than $250,000 in savings to cover post-retirement health care costs, and 12% said they expect to need less than $100,000.

“Those who have obtained investment advice from a professional financial advisor are less likely than those who have not to report they will need less than $50,000 and more likely to say they will need $75,000 or more,” researchers write in a summary of the survey results.

The total percentage of EBRI/Mathew Greenwald workers participants who are not at all confident about being able to take care of medical expenses in retirement has fallen to 14% this year, from 20% in 2005, researchers report.

The EBRI/Mathew Greenwald age comparisons fact sheet suggests that awareness of the decline in U.S. post-retirement health coverage programs rises with age.

Most boomer workers fit either in the 45-55 age category or the 55-and-older category.

Only 32% of 55-and-older workers still expect to receive employer-sponsored retiree health insurance, but 45% of the boomer workers in the 45-55 age group still expect to get retiree health insurance, researchers report.

Although younger boomers appear to be less familiar with the state of retiree health programs, they may be about as aware of problems in the Medicare system.

Only 7% of workers ages 45-55 are very confident that Medicare benefits will continue to provide benefits of at least equal value to the benefits received by retirees today, compared with 8% of workers ages 55 and older.

Because of all of the concerns about retirement funding vehicles, only 19% of workers ages 45-55 said they are very confident about having enough money to take care of medical expenses during retirement, while 26% of the workers ages 55 and up were very confident about being able to pay post-retirement health care costs.

One lesson from all this information is that financial professionals advising boomers have to work harder to explain how the lines between health care planning and retirement planning are blurring, Houston says.

The new health savings account programs are part of a shift toward a defined health care system, from a defined benefit system, that is similar to the shift that took place in the retirement plan market in the 1980s and 1990s, Houston says.

In a few years, “we’ll be talking about health care and retirement as the same thing,” Houston says. “They effectively are competing for the same dollars.”

Principal has responded to the shift by sending representatives to talk face-to-face with retirement plan members about ways to use HSAs and other vehicles to increase savings, Houston says.