Projecting the real cost of health care in retirement

Health care

With seniors more active than ever – and with lifespans steadily increasing – maintaining good health as you age is a top priority. Yet, as the cost of care continues to rise, growing expenses may be a significant risk to other retirement goals.


Know the cost

Increases to the cost of care have led to some staggering numbers across a full retirement period, creating a price tag of over $400,000 for the future cost of care for an average 65-year-old couple in retirement.1

This increase in cost is largely due to greater demand driven by longevity and advances in treatment and technology. For example, so-called maintenance procedures like joint replacement and cataract surgery are increasingly common, but carry significant price tags as they impact greater numbers of Baby Boomers.

Expenses like these are directly impacting Medicare and private insurance, which share the burden with individuals through escalating premiums, copays and deductibles.

These cost increases are particularly challenging for women, who face higher lifetime care costs due to a life expectancy that is two-plus years longer than men. These additional years are significant, resulting in costs that are typically one third higher than for men overall.

Wage and Social Security cost of living adjustments (COLAs) have consistently lagged behind the rise in health care costs, creating a need to plan and fund health care as a separate goal. With the cost of premiums growing at three and four times faster than wage and COLA increases, it is important that the rate of inflation used for your health care goal properly reflects expected health care inflation of at least 5 percent.

Increases that matter

Since 1999, wage growth has been moderate while premiums have skyrocketed.2

increases that matter

Your share of the cost

The burden of paying for health care is falling increasingly on the individual through cost sharing. Not only have premiums skyrocketed, but deductibles, copays and out-of-pocket costs are also on the rise.

Even factoring in Medicare coverage, experts estimate that by age 75 it is likely your health care expenditures will amount to 15 percent of your overall spending—nearly double what you spent during your working life.3

medicare cost gap 01
medicare cost gap 02

Far from a comprehensive solution, Medicare has significant gaps, limits, and increasingly higher premiums and copays. This requires supplemental insurance to help fill the void and provide coverage for additional items like dental care, hearing aids and vision.

These factors combine to make health care likely your second highest expense category in retirement, trailing only housing. This sobering reality makes planning ahead and properly projecting the cost of care using a higher growth rate a crucial part of your overall wealth plan.

Take action
  • Discuss the impact of health expenses with your financial advisor, and model cost into your wealth plan
  • Ask to include health care expenses as a seperate category in your plan, with an inflation rate of at least 5 percent
  • Monitor and review your plan over time, reviweing it at least annually

Read more from our RBC Wealth Insights report Taking control of health care in retirement

1. 2017 Retirement Health Care Costs Data Report, Healthview Services, 2017.
2. Kaiser/HRET Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Benefits, 1999–2016. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Price
Index, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Seasonally Adjusted Data from the Current Employment Statistics Survey, 1999–2016 (April to April), HealthView Services COLA by calendar year, 2016.
3. Household health care spending in 2014, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014.
4. Savings Medicare Beneficiaries Need for Health Expenses: Some Couples Could Need as Much as $350,000, Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2017.
5. 2017 Retirement Health Care Costs Data Report, HealthView Services, 2017.

RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, registered investment adviser and Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.

Let’s connect

We want to talk about your financial future.

Related articles

Could rising health care costs compromise your retirement plans?

Health care 6 minute read
- Could rising health care costs compromise your retirement plans?

How to plan your health care and life expectancy

Health care 3 minute read
- How to plan your health care and life expectancy

Explore the benefits of a Health Savings Account

Health care 6 minute read
- Explore the benefits of a Health Savings Account