Benefits

Reducing Health Care Costs Through Behavioral Modification

Minimal behavior change can significantly reduce the costs of health care in retirement and potentially allow employees to save more towards retirement, a study finds.

By Javier Simon editors@plansponsor.com | June 14, 2017

Rising health care costs are projected to be the most burdensome expenses in retirement, but minimal behavioral change can significantly lower the price tag. These conclusions are from HealthView Services’ 2017 Retirement Health Care Costs Data Report, which draws from 70 million health care cases as well as actuarial, government and economic data.

According to a HealthView case study cited in the report, a 50-year-old with Type II diabetes who follows doctor’s orders can potentially add eight additional years to life expectancy and save an average of $5,000 annually in out-of-pocket costs before retirement. The firm notes that if the same individual invests that sum into a fund that earns a 6% return, that person would have more than $120,000 by age 65 or an extra $14,000 per year (assuming the person lives to the actuarial projected age of 80). With another $2,750 per year in health care savings in retirement, this individual would have generated almost $17,000 more in annual retirement income.

These findings emphasize the importance of communicating effective benefits packages in order for employees to make the most out of the offerings most beneficial to them. Adding a health component to financial wellness programs or adopting programs that incentivize healthy behavior may help as well.

But participants who don’t address their health issues through behavior modification could be looking at a very expensive retirement, as could employers enduring higher health care costs.

According to HealthView, retirement health care cost inflation is expected to increase at an annual rate of 5.47% for the next decade. This translates to triple the rate of inflation between 2012 and 2016, and more than double the projected Social Security cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs).

The study indicates that a healthy 65-year old couple retiring today is expected to need $321,994 to cover total health care costs in retirement, when factoring in projected expenses for Medicare Part B and D premiums, as well as supplemental and dental insurance. When accounting for deductibles, copays, hearing, vision, and cost sharing, that number jumps to $404,253 in today’s dollars or $607,662 in future dollars.

Medicare Part B premiums alone jumped by 16% in 2016. So far in 2017, they have increased by 10% despite a 24% decrease predicted by the Medicare Board of Trustees.

HealthView Services reports that the main driver behind these rising expenses is the increase in retirement health care inflation.

The report notes that “Through a short-term lens, the average 65-year-old couple that retires in 2017 will pay $11,369 in their first year for health care—$670 more than the same couple retiring in 2016. By age 85, those 2017 retirees will spend $39,208 (or $1,915 more for the same coverage than last year’s retirees).”

Women in particular may face a larger burden due to increased life expectancy. HealthView finds that women live on average two years longer than men. The firm projects that expected health care costs for a healthy 63-year-old woman retiring this year (living to age 89) would need $362,607 in future dollars or 29.9% more than a 65-year-old male.

But regardless of age or gender, the firm finds that minimal behavioral change can reduce health care expenses and boost savings as well as longevity.

“Although these numbers may seem out of reach, the savings required to cover health care when meeting retirement savings goals are often more modest than might be expected,” says HealthView President and CEO Ron Mastrogiovanni. “A 55-year-old can increase 401(k) contributions by as little as $17 per paycheck to address their retirement health care premiums, assuming a company match of 50% and they are meeting an 85% incomer replacement ratio savings goal.”

The full 2017 Retirement Health Care Costs Data Report can be found at HVSFinancial.com

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