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WORKSPAN
WORKSPAN DAILY |

Getting Ahead of the Game for Health Care in Retirement


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zimmytws / iStock

Retirement cost projections continue to rise, with the pandemic having an outsized impact on medical expenses for current and future retirees.

Analysis from Fidelity Investments found that an opposite-gender couple is likely to spend $300,000 throughout retirement. For single retirees, the 2021 estimate is $157,000 for women and $143,000 for men and those estimates mark a 30% increase from a decade ago.

There are a number of drivers behind this mounting retirement health care cost challenge, Fidelity noted in its analysis. In general, people are living longer, health care inflation continues to outpace the rate of general inflation, and the average retirement age is 62 for most Americans, which is three years before you are eligible to enroll in Medicare.

“Health care is creating a 'retirement cost gap' for many pre-retirees,” said Steve Feinschreiber, senior vice president of the Financial Solutions Group at Fidelity. “Many people assume Medicare will cover all your health care cost in retirement, but it doesn't. We estimate that about 15% of the average retiree's annual expenses will be used for health care-related expenses, including Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. So, you should carefully weigh all options.”

Given these projections, just as employees became more invested in their overall health and well-being in 2020, a heightened focus on planning for retirement is equally significant. There are various ways employers can assist in this endeavor.

An increasingly popular benefit employers are offering are health savings accounts (HSA), which commonly accompanies a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). HSAs famously offer a triple-tax advantage, as contributed funds aren’t subject to federal income tax at any point in the process and they roll over each year. Employers that offer HSAs can generally contribute a set amount each month to each employee’s account and while those funds can be used for qualified medical expenses, most experts agree they’re far more effective as an additional retirement vehicle alongside a 401(k). Additionally, employees can contribute to their own accounts via payroll deductions, up to $3,600 for the 2021 tax year.

While it’s tempting for employees to utilize these funds for medical expenses — especially in the midst of a pandemic — employers can play a role in advising employees about the benefits of leaving the account untouched, if it’s financially feasible, until retirement. To wit, Fidelity’s research found that more than 80% of Americans said the pandemic has affected their retirement plans

“COVID-19 has left millions of Americans feeling uncertain about their financial futures. Many have had to dip into their long-term savings to stay afloat,” said Shobin Uralil, COO and Co-Founder of Lively. “While HSA account holders may have spent their money differently to adapt to the pandemic this year, rising health care costs are still making it tough to save for things like retirement. It's never been more important to ensure that people with HDHPs know about their potential savings opportunities to get back on track for future health events.”

2019 survey from Alight indicated that roughly half of HSA holders qualify as “savers” but among those folks, less than half are saving their HSA money all the way to retirement. This is an opportunity for employers to intercede.

Employers can also offer a benefits package that gets out in front of potential triggers of high health care costs in both the interim and in retirement. Some sought-after benefits include weight management programs, prescriptions and procedures, which often aren’t covered or are limited by traditional health plans. Healthy weight impacts overall health in many facets, leading to long-term benefit to health plan costs for self-insured companies. Healthy weight can reduce risks: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, knee replacements, certain cancers etc., according to the CDC.

Aside from the long-term benefits it can provide for your employees, now might also be a fortuitous time to offer weight-loss programs as a part of your well-being package. Coming out of the pandemic, 61% of U.S. adults reported undesired weight changes since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Stress, lack of exercise, unhealthy changes in eating habits, and increased alcohol consumption were all reported as contributing factors.

Lastly, employers can assist their employees’ preparation for retirement by communicating and facilitating counseling sessions with financial advisors through the organization’s 401(k) provider.

About the Author

Brett Christie Bio Image

Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.