Boomer clients may have a vague sense that retirement will bring a mountain of medical and health insurance bills, but just how high is high?

Software developers are starting to come up with Web tools that can help advisors’ clients estimate just how much retirement income they will need simply to cope with post-retirement health care costs.

The first tools gave general answers to general questions.

Today, experts interviewed say, the new tools use detailed information from users to generate detailed cost forecasts.

Kevin Andrews, president of SmartBen Inc., Conyers, Ga., a Web benefits technology firm, says he thinks the time is right to reach out to boomers through the Web.

Today, boomers “are used to getting information that way,” Andrews says.

Meanwhile, at employers, boomers “are taking up more and more of [human resources'] time,” and the HR managers are looking to Web tools to ease their workload, Andrews says.

Researchers with the Pew Research Center, Washington, have found that just 26% of U.S. residents ages 70 to 75 go online. But half of Americans in their 60s and two-thirds of Americans in their 50s use the Web.

Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, Mass., reported in June that boomers appear to be somewhat less likely than average to use technology, but more serious about making commercial use of the Web.

Although only 43% of boomers own a laptop, for example, compared with 54% of the young adults in “Generation Y,” boomers told Forrester they spend an average of more than $750 on the Web every 3 months, compared with an average of $463 for members of Generation Y.

When Pew researchers surveyed Internet users about interest in medical information, they found that 68% of users ages 65 and older, and 78% of Internet users ages 50 to 64, had turned to the Web for medical information.

AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company, New York, a unit of AXA S.A., Paris, has tried to harness boomers’ interest in health and other topics, such as travel and hobbies, to lure boomers to MyRetirementShop.com, a “retirement lifestyle Web site” that competes for boomers’ attention by offering them a relaxing home on the Web.

The health section includes a guide to the top doctors and a health club directory along with a health library.

The Social Security Administration has posted a Retirement Estimator, at http://ssa.gov/estimator, that uses a visitor’s own Social Security earnings record to estimate future benefits payments.

Many health insurers provide current health care cost estimation tools, and the Employee Benefit Research Institute, Washington, is offering a disability insurance calculator and a Retiree Health Savings Calculator along with a conventional health insurance cost calculator.

Meanwhile, some organizations are trying to make direct use of the Web to help boomers and others evaluate and improve their health.

Several organizations offer Web-based tests for hearing loss, for example.

CogniFit Ltd., Yoqneam Ilit, Israel, uses the Web to sell downloadable memory measurement and memory exercise software.

In the financial services and benefits arena, the next generation of boomer Web tools will, like the Social Security estimator, tie into the users’ own payroll information and other personal information, Andrews predicts.

Boomers “struggle with tools that don’t take in their personal data,” Andrews says.

In many cases, Andrews says, a calculator will ask for information, such as the user’s tax bracket, that users may not know.

The ability to customize assumptions is also important, Andrews says.

Andrews reports that the typical retirement calculator will assume that the user will earn a flat rate of return, such as 8%, for life.

A better calculator would permit a user to choose a pre-retirement rate of return along with a separate, lower post-retirement rate of return, to reflect the likelihood that a user will shift to safer, lower-return investments after reaching the normal retirement age, Andrews says.