“My doctor gave me six months to live, but when I couldn’t pay the bill he gave me six months more.”
– Walter Matthau
A recent report showed that American couples who retired in 2012 can expect to pay 4% more in health care costs than those who did in 2011, and the total cost will be, on average, $240,000 per couple. Furthermore, most American couples plan on spending half of that amount on healthcare.
There’s quite a disconnect between what we perceive it will cost us to pay for health care and what it will probably wind up costing. Here are a couple of reasons why this happens:
- We’re used to our employers paying the healthcare bills. Most jobs have some sort of employer-sponsored health insurance, so employees either pay only a portion of the bill, or they don’t pay the bill at all. Therefore, the true total cost of health insurance is hidden.
- We anticipate continued good health and don’t think about the costs when our health declines. Everyone gets old and dies eventually. Oftentimes, that comes with a period of decline or multiple periods of poor health. Those times are expensive. However, we are victims of the psychological cognitive bias called the recency effect, which means that we look to our recent health history as an indicator of future health. Since we’re generally more healthy when we’re younger than when we’re older, we expect more of the same.
What are some actions you can take to blunt the impact of future healthcare costs?
- Raise your estimates of how much your health care will cost in the future. Remember, the average American couple underestimates by approximately 48%.
- Join a gym and get active. Being active will increase your overall health.
- Create a side fund for future healthcare costs. Just as you should be setting aside money each month for Christmas, a replacement car, and other periodic expenses, you would be wise to set aside money now, when you’re healthy, to pay for the time when you’re not healthy.
- If you’re over 50, look at getting long-term care insurance. You don’t want catastrophic costs to decimate your retirement nest egg if you need long-term care; it’s best to insure against that high-priced scenario.