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Insurance: Don't Let Health Care Hijack Your Retirement

Aug 17, 2007
One of the greatest financial challenges faced by today's retirees is the rising cost of health care. Prescriptions, insurance premiums, doctor's office visits and hospital stays are all increasing more rapidly than inflation. Whether you're in your golden years or fast approaching them, you must take a serious look at how health care costs will affect your retirement nest egg.

The causes of rising health care costs are many. Today's population is living longer than ever. That's a good thing, but it does mean that our health care system is being stretched to handle the increasing load. New drugs and other treatments are continually coming on the market to address health care problems in new ways. Preventive drugs are being prescribed than ever before.

Some retirees get blindsided by changes in their company's health plan. Today, only 11% of companies offer health benefits to retirees, and that number is decreasing. Many don't realize that these retiree health benefits aren't a legal obligation of the company and can be changed at any time. To cut costs, many companies are reducing benefits, charging more, or eliminating retiree health plans entirely. For example, one of my clients retired from a large company and due to its financial troubles and rising health care costs, his monthly premiums have increased from $40 a month to $220 in just 4 years.

So what's a person to do? You can't escape the rising cost of health care, but you can certainly plan for it. Pre-retirees need to take a hard look at their savings plan to make sure they're saving enough to cover these costs. Find a financial calculator on the internet to determine how much to save.

If you're still years from retirement and healthy, don't think you'll need to save less. As you age, chances are your health will decline, perhaps suddenly. So don't base your savings on your health situation today.

But saving enough isn't always practical. Pre-retirees and retirees alike need to have a back-up plan in place in case their health care or other expenses take a sudden unexpected increase. You may need to adjust your investment strategy and method of investing. Be prepared to reduce your other expenses, perhaps by lowering your lifestyle or selling your vacation home. You need to be prepared to tap your principal if necessary. Some seniors have found themselves reentering the workplace, either part time or full time to handle these expenses.

Another way to manage your health care costs is to slash the costs of your prescriptions. Medicare recipients are eligible for a Medicare Approved Prescription Discount Card through the end of 2005. You can check out all the details at www.aarp.org.

Many find that ordering drugs through the mail offers them greater savings and convenience, especially when ordering from Canadian pharmacies. In fact, several states, including Illinois, New Hampshire and Wisconsin have taken active steps to make ordering drugs from Canada easier for their constituents. All told, 24 states have considered similar measures. With savings of around 60% in some cases, it's easy to see why.

Sometimes ordering a 90 day supply has a lower cost, plus you save 2 co-pays versus a 30 day supply. Some doctors will prescribe a higher dose drug with the understanding that the patient will cut the pill in half. This 'double dose' method should only be used under your doctor's supervision but can also reduce your costs. Generic drugs can save you a bundle.

Researching prescription plans, prices and ordering options can take a good deal of time and can be somewhat confusing. But the savings can really add up. The good news in all of this is that today's seniors are living longer and better than ever. And this is due in large part to the great strides in medical research.

We may hate to pay more each year for our health care, but it's that very care that is greatly increasing our quality of life. With proper planning and savvy consumer action, you can continue to afford what is probably the greatest health care in the world.
About the Author
Nationally-syndicated financial columnist and Certified Financial Planner Jeffrey Voudrie provides personal, in-depth money management services and advice to select private clients throughout the USA. He will answer your financial question FREE at http://www.guardingyourwealth.net/
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