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Managing Your Healthcare Expenses In Your Golden Years

This month on “Wellness Wednesdays,” we’ve been looking at strategies for reducing the amount we spend on healthcare. If you’ve been watching the news (or your own checkbook), you know that the cost of healthcare has been going up faster than inflation for years and shows no signs of slowing down.

Last week, we discussed three factors health insurers have identified that keep the cost of healthcare high. Not surprisingly, they pointed out wasteful practices within the health system, including, “redundant, inappropriate or unnecessary tests and procedures,” unhealthy lifestyles, and an aging population. I challenged my readers to take responsibility for their own health and adjust their lifestyles to include foods and behaviors that promote wellness and prevent illness. The alternative is to live at the mercy of medicine.

Planning For Your Quality of Life

Now, that advice is against the grain. As we saw a couple of weeks ago, there are two schools of thought about wellness – one says that health is the norm and we should live in a way that allows our body to activate its built-in systems for defending against disease, while the other says that disease is the norm and research is building a system of chemicals that will enable us to moderate our symptoms enough to live without discomfort.

Which mindset makes more money? Clearly, the system that keeps people dependent on a system of pills and chemicals has the greatest opportunity to be profitable, but does it promote a good quality of life?

Let’s ask Jim, my friend’s dad, who by the time he turned 60, was taking 17 different medications every morning to manage his Chron’s Disease, diabetes, heart disease, arteriosclerosis, stress, migraine headaches, ulcers, internal bleeding, and a handful of related side conditions. To say nothing of the quadruple bypass surgery he underwent in his 60s, or how he spent his last year wearing a pair of casts that squeezed blood up and down the lengths of his legs for hours at a time to keep his circulation moving.

How would you describe his quality of life?

Jim had excellent investments, good insurance, a military pension with a VA benefits package, and Medicare B and D, so much of his healthcare costs were covered, but not all of them. It reminds me of the expression that says, “we spend the first half of our lives spending our health to build our wealth, and the last half spending our wealth to regain our health.” It shouldn’t be that way, but our culture has embraced that model as “the way it is.”

Planning To Cover Your Costs

Do you have a plan for covering your health care costs after you retire?

The financial planners at UBS Financial Services calculated that:

“While virtually all Americans over the age of 65 are covered by Medicare, according to CIO-A WM, a 65-year-old couple needs to have saved between $300,000 and $600,000 at the start of retirement in order to cover future healthcare expenses. With Social Security roughly the equivalent of a $1.2 million asset, according to CIO-A WM, this means that Social Security should fully fund healthcare expenses for current retirees. However, retirees have to account for those expenses in their overall plan – or they might not have as much discretionary income in retirement as expected. And according to a report by HealthView Services on healthcare cost projects compared to CIOs broad-based inflation expectations, retirees should expect their overall healthcare costs to increase twice as fast as other costs in retirement.”

Medicare A, B, and D together don’t cover the entire cost of monthly premiums, copays, or some prescriptions. Are you ready to cover that expense? So, your social security is a pretty good start if you only need it to cover your healthcare expenses, but what if you need to live on that for your daily bread?

Planning for the Long Term

Then there’s the whole matter of long-term care. With people living longer but not healthier, it is not unusual for people to come to a point in their lives that they are unable to care for themselves. We usually associate this with dementia, but it can also be the result of unmanageable arthritis, hip fractures, osteoporosis, or other physical limitations that inhibit a person’s ability to be alone for extended periods of time. I recently heard about a man who, at 70, had to be moved to a full-time assisted care facility because he had been living alone for years, hours away from family, and refused to take his medications for multiple sclerosis, kidney disease, and diabetes. When he stopped answering his phone, family members finally broke in and found him unconscious on his couch and moved him into full-time care.

Long-term care is a massive investment that requires an additional insurance policy, separate from other health insurance, but I wonder how many of my readers in their 40s and 50s have ever given it any thought. Are you ready to pay for the cost of living in a facility with a full-time care staff, or are you still thinking like The Who: “I hope I die before I get old”?

Do I want you to spend your golden years in a home with a full-time nursing staff? Of course not. I want you to live every day in good health in your own home until the day you decide to go home forever. But are we building lifestyle habits that will allow us to live in optimal health through our 80s and 90s and beyond?

A New View of Longevity

When I got involved in the Blue Zones project, it transformed my thinking about longevity, and in doing so, it made me very sensitive to the things people say about aging. There is such a pervasive mindset here in America that disease and deterioration is a natural part of growing old — that seniors should need a walker or a wheelchair, an oxygen tank, and 17 meds every day until they die of cancer or heart disease.

No one wants that life. Everyone wants the happy, active, cable-knit-sweaters-and-white slacks retirement life we see in the pharmaceutical ads. But we make lifestyle choices that will lead us away from that life and toward a life with a walker and an oxygen tank. We assume that’s where we are headed. Maybe that’s why nobody talks about it. It’s uncomfortable.

Plan To Make A Good Plan

I encourage you to work with a good financial planner who can help you organize a retirement plan that will allow enough of a cushion to be prepared for any unforeseen healthcare expenses that may come after you retire. In the meantime, I urge you to work with a wellness coach who can help you organize a lifestyle that will promote a long life of good health. I would love to see you in your 90s, stopping by your doctor’s office for a yearly checkup and getting a clean bill of health. It takes the same level of planning and strategy as a good retirement plan, but it will save you a ton of money, time, and stress. What would you do with all the money other people will have to spend on medications you won’t need?

Let’s set a goal to live long, healthy lives; playing with your great-grandchildren, traveling the world, serving the poor, and continuing to dream and set goals for life after 100. We can do it. Are you with me?

Let Me Help You Plan

If you live in the Naples area, I would be so honored if you would give me the opportunity to help you set that plan. The first step is to find out where you are now: what changes, if any, do we need to make to your diet and lifestyle to optimize your health? You might be surprised to learn that it’s not the same for every person. Some people need to stretch more, some need to do more cardio, some need to remove grains from their diet, some need to reduce their red meat intake. Every human’s health optimization need is different.

Once we know where you are and where you want to go, we can develop a plan that will guide you through daily choices to form good habits for the rest of your life (long life!). As we go from year to year, we will make adjustments — not just to your spine, but to your diet, movement plan, and the mental game. Remember that your thought life is just as important to your physical health as what you put in your mouth.

“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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