How much should the cost of health care be factored into retirement savings rates?
That depends on what health conditions will have to be treated.
New research from Empower Retirement, the nation’s second largest retirement plan recordkeeper by number of participants, reveals what it calls counterintuitive data on what retirees need to budget for health care.
The Empower Institute, the research arm of the service provider, has created a proprietary formula that estimates specific health conditions and their correlating mortality risk with different investment return scenarios to help individuals ballpark a health care savings rate.
The good news is that a more specific savings strategy pegged to individuals’ health conditions can help better understand potential out-of-pocket costs, and that information can help plan participants better prepare for retirement.
The bad news? Being healthy isn’t cheap.
In fact, Empower’s data shows a healthy 65-year old male is going to need upwards of $144,000 to cover Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket costs in retirement.
That healthy 65-year old is in select company; previous Empower research projects that only one in five households is expected to be healthy as they enter retirement.
Those fortunate retirees face the prospect of increased lifespans and a subsequent need to save more to cover premium costs.
By comparison, a 65 year-old living with a cancer diagnosis at retirement will need less in savings for health care costs than if they were healthy—around $130,000.
And a diabetic entering retirement may only need around $88,000, given the limited life expectancy.
The key takeaway from the new research is that adverse health conditions don’t necessarily correlate with higher health care expenses--and that can present a challenge as to how health care costs are factored into pre-retirement savings rates.
“Conventional wisdom suggest that healthy retirees would enjoy lower overall healthcare expenses throughout retirement,” said W. Van Harlow, director of research for Empower Institute.
But “longer lifespan means continued Medicare premium payments,” said Harlow in a statement.
Harlow’s and Empower’s research incorporates data from HealthView Services’ estimates of mortality rates for specific health conditions.
A healthy 65-year old male can expect to live to be 87, compared to a recent retiree with a cancer diagnosis, who can expect to live to be 81. A newly retired diabetic has a life expectancy of 78.
To be clear, Empower’s research looks at the cost of out-of-pocket and Medicare premium costs—it does not consider ancillary services not covered by Medicare.
The study calculates those out-of-pocket costs for 65-year olds, accounting for gender and earnings, as higher earners pay surcharges on Medicare part B and D premiums. It then takes out-of-pocket costs at 65 and applies historic healthcare inflation rates to arrive at its estimates.
“To be sure, there is not—and actually cannot be—any one-size-fits-all solution to retiree health costs,” writes Harlow in the new paper, An Apple a Day: The impact of Health Conditions on the Required Savings for Healthcare.
Harlow’s research concedes that it is “nearly impossible to precisely predict a specific individual’s healthcare costs across what may be decades of retirement.”
But the impossibility of precision “is no excuse for inertia,” says Harlow.
“Doing nothing to address retiree health costs is not an option,” he writes.