By Glenn Ruffenach
The good news on a Monday: Some Americans – concerned about health-care costs in retirement – are embracing healthier lifestyles.
The sobering news: Most of us still aren’t getting the message about just how steep those costs might be.
A survey published last week by Sun Life Financial Inc., the Toronto-based financial services company, found that 53% of surveyed adults in the U.S. are taking steps – such as improving one’s diet, quitting smoking and exercising more often – to help limit medical bills in later life. (And the older the individual, the more likely he or she has changed. Seventy-four percent of surveyed adults age 60 to 66 report pursuing a healthier lifestyle, compared with 45% of respondents ages 30-39.)
But the study also found that fully 40% of Americans have “no idea” how much they will spend on health care after retiring – and only 8% estimate that such costs will exceed $200,000. That figure, unfortunately, is a good benchmark. (A separate report published in March by Fidelity Investments estimates that a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2011 will need $230,000 to pay for medical expenses throughout retirement – not including nursing-home care.)
Sun Life also asked workers about their plans, if any, to cover out-of-pocket health-care costs in later life. Seventy-four percent of those surveyed said they had no specific strategy for handling medical bills in retirement.
The findings help explain the title that Sun Life attached to the report: “Flying Blind: How Working Americans View Healthcare Costs in Retirement.”
Of course, many of us have a tough time saving for retirement itself – never mind setting aside funds for health-care expenses. But as the Sun Life survey notes, there are inexpensive steps that all of us can take – starting today – to reduce such costs. The most important are lifestyle changes: diet and exercise. But also consider taking advantage of wellness programs at work. Many employers are adding or upgrading these programs – to help you and the company’s bottom line (by reducing absenteeism, for instance).
And think about subscribing to one of the growing number of newsletters from top-tier health organizations that put a spotlight on health matters for individuals age 50-plus. Among the best: “Focus on Healthy Aging,” from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York; “Health After 50,” from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore; and “Healthy Years,” from the UCLA division of geriatrics in California.