Baby Boomers face their Medical Future

According to a Commonwealth Fund study, 66% of baby boomers ages 50 to 65 are concerned about being able to afford medical care in the future.

But the problem isn’t only in the future. It turns out this group has more uncertainty in their insurance coverage and more significant health needs than most other folks. As the study touts, “One of five baby boomers age 50 to 65 in working families spent some time uninsured since their 50th birthday. This despite the fact that more than 60 percent of this age group is living with at least one chronic health condition.”
While health care costs are rising across the board, this group suffers more than most. For those who end up buying coverage individually, the price is particularly steep. More than half of older adults with individual coverage spend more than $3,600 per year on premiums. And after paying these premiums (whether they get sick or not), they also have to pay the deductible, which for 48% of them is $1,000 or higher.
This day-to-day reality is beginning to impact their retirement plans as well. As Commonwealth puts it, “The combination of rising out-of-pocket health care costs and sluggish wage growth threatens workers’ ability to save for retirement. This is particularly true for older adults ages 50 to 65, or ‘baby boomers,’ whose per capita health care expenditures are more than twice those of younger adults.”

The bottom line? Baby boomers need to educate themselves and become more savvy about health care. It is crucial to ensure they have the financial tools that work for them instead of against them.
Something to keep in mind: A traditional policy has high premiums that are never seen again. A climbing deductible and higher co-pays make this a black hole as far as investments go. But a high deductible health plan combined with an HSA have many benefits that are particularly attractive to this age group. Some advantages include:
1. Lower premiums – This means there is more cash to invest in the HSA, and to eventually put toward the deductible.
2. Portability – In case one’s employment situation changes, he/she keeps the HSA and has the benefit of past investments. Tax-free savings with tax-free interest – In fact, HSA accounts offer more favorable terms than IRAs in terms of saving for retirement health needs.
3. The Catch-up Contribution – This is an extra fund that people ages 55-65 can stow away in their HSA. For 2009, this amounts to an extra $1,000.
Even more promising is the fact that most of these older adults are willing to save if the right financial mechanism comes along. As Commonwealth reports, “A substantial majority of older adults in working families (71%) said they would be interested in having one percent of their earnings deducted from their paychecks and placed into an account, which could later be used to pay for long-term care or other health services that Medicare does not cover.” Education will be key, but consumer-driven health care has a lot to offer baby boomers both now and in the future.

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