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Retirement Planning > Retirement Investing

The real cost of health in retirement: Calculating the unknowable

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A recent article from The Wall Street Journal takes on the long-held belief that thousands of dollars are required to meet medical expenses in retirement. Retirement health costs, the publication concludes, may actually require somewhat less than conventional wisdom dictates.

According to the latest report from Fidelity Investments, a 65-year-old couple currently entering retirement requires $250,000 to cover retirement medical care. (This figure excludes the cost of a nursing-home, which can run $80,000 a year.) A survey of retirees conducted by Fidelity found that medical expenses averaged $535 a month or approximately 20 percent of an average couple’s total monthly expenses and that 47 percent of retirees were spending more each month for insurance premiums and out-of- pocket health costs than they had planned.

In contrast, research by Prudential Financial and the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College showed the projected health costs of an uninsured married couple age 65 to be approximately $197,000. This figure includes insurance premiums, out-of-pocket expenses and home health care costs. With nursing-home care costs, the figure rises to $260,000.

Skeptic Michael Zwecher, author of “Retirement Portfolios: Theory, Construction, and Management,” claims that Fidelity’s $250,000 figure, as a statistical average, does not accurately represent the medical costs of the vast majority of retirees. As Zwecher sees it, one’s options are either to save enough money to pay for a worst-case scenario ($807,000 according to one research firm) or to purchase long term care insurance. Because retirees face such uncertainty with regard to the future costs of medical care, insurance may be the best bet.


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