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Here's the Latest on What Healthcare Will Cost in Retirement -- and It Isn’t Pretty

Maurie Backman, The Motley Fool

Though retirement is often thought of as a carefree period of life, the truth is that countless seniors find themselves overwhelmingly stressed once they leave the workforce, and money is a big part of it. After all, it's hard to adapt to living on a fixed income, especially one that doesn't do a good enough job of paying the bills.

And if there's one source of bills that seniors aren't strangers to, it's healthcare. From medications to doctor visits to hospital stays, the typical retiree spends a large chunk of his or her income just to maintain decent health. And unfortunately, many seniors go into retirement unprepared for the costs that lie ahead.

Doctor talking to a senior man


So how much will the average retiree spend on healthcare? The typical 65-year-old man who lives an average lifespan will fork over $189,687 in today's dollars to cover his medical care in retirement. Meanwhile, the typical 65-year-old woman will spend $214,565, since women tend to live longer. This data stems from HealthView Services, a cost projection software provider. And the most frightening part about it? These numbers don't even account for costs associated with long-term care.

Whether you're a few years away from retirement or still have several decades of full-time work ahead of you, it's imperative that you read up on healthcare costs for seniors and get a sense of what you might one day be dealing with. Otherwise, you risk coming up short and putting not only your financial security, but also your health, at risk.

Know what Medicare will and won't cover

One reason so many seniors are blindsided by healthcare costs is that they expect more out of Medicare than what they get. Though Medicare does cover a wide range of services for retirees, there are numerous services it won't pay for, such as routine dental visits, vision exams, hearing aids, and long-term care. Getting a solid grip on Medicare's scope of coverage will help you determine which services you'll need to pay for -- and save for in advance.

Pad your nest egg

Speaking of savings, regardless of how healthy you might be at present, you can't discount the possibility that new issues will arise as you age. That's why it's critical to sock away as much as you can for the future -- for when your health takes a turn for the worse and you're stuck with a series of bills that are heftier than anticipated.

Now the good news is that if you're still working, you have a decent opportunity to boost your nest egg. Specifically, workers under 50 can contribute up to $18,500 annually to a 401(k), and this limit increases to $24,500 for those 50 and over. That means if you're 55 and max out your yearly contributions for 12 years, you'll come away with an additional $438,000 if your investments generate a totally doable 7% average annual return during that period. And having that sort of cash on hand makes the aforementioned numbers seem just a bit less daunting, doesn't it?

Buy long-term care insurance

While reading up on Medicare and saving aggressively will put you in a better position to cover your healthcare costs in retirement, there's one more piece of the puzzle: long-term care insurance. It's estimated that 70% of seniors 65 and over will need some type of long-term care in their lifetime, and without insurance, you'll typically be on the hook for those bills in their entirety.

And if you think the above healthcare spending numbers are out of control, wait till you see what long-term care might run you. If you come to need an assisted living facility, you'll spend roughly $43,500 per year. And if you wind up needing to be placed in a nursing home, you'll spend over $82,000 annually to bunk with a roommate. Want privacy? That'll set you back an extra $10,000 a year.

So say you don't have insurance and wind up needing full-time nursing home care for three years. Even if you go the cheaper route of sharing a room, you're still looking at close to $250,000. Ouch. On the other hand, if you have an insurance policy in place, you'll ease the burden on yourself and your loved ones. But don't wait -- the earlier you apply for long-term care insurance, the greater your chances of not just getting approved, but also snagging a health-based discount.

Clearly, the healthcare costs today's seniors face are nothing short of astronomical. And the worst part? Those numbers are only likely to rise with time, which means that today's 20-, 30-, 40-, and 50-somethings will need even more money to cover those eventual expenses. The takeaway? Go in prepared. Learn about Medicare, push yourself to save extra, and buy long-term care insurance. You'll be grateful for all of it once those bills start coming in.

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