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Opinion: 3 tips for women facing health care pitfalls

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Women generally have a list of to-dos that seem never ending. More often than not, last on the list is “take care of myself.” The repercussions of that oversight can be damaging when it comes to wellness and retirement.

How much should the average American woman expect to spend on health care expenses in her retirement? It’s more than you think. A 65-year-old woman in retirement will spend more than $300,000 on health care expenses alone, according to a report from the National Institute on Retirement Security. That’s nearly 20 percent greater than the average retired male.

The following are three common health care-based pitfalls women face when it comes to saving for retirement – and a few tips to avoid them:

Pitfall No. 1: Women live longer on average than men but have smaller retirement funds.

The Society of Actuaries reports half of all married women will outlive their spouses by 15 years. Yet, a longer life doesn’t necessarily mean a more prepared life. Oftentimes women enter retirement with a smaller nest egg than men. They typically are out of the workforce longer, acting as a caregiver for children, grandchildren or aging parents. Women also are saving for retirement on a smaller income. A study by Payscale Human Capital shows women make less money throughout their careers due to a gender wage gap that remains at about 76 cents for every $1 a man earns.

Tip: The risk of having your money die before you do is high; that’s why saving starts now. You can create a plan to address your current and future expenses. A good starting point is using a health care cost calculator. I recommend one by AARP online. That will give you an estimate of how much you’ll need to budget. If you’ve already hit retirement, it is still a good tool.

Pitfall No. 2: Women are at a greater risk for long-term care expenses.

Longevity also means women are more likely to live alone in later years with no one in the household to help with daily tasks. The statistics are striking. Seventy percent of nursing home residents are female, and Medicare does not cover the cost of this type of custodial care, according to AARP reports. Expect to shell out thousands on premiums and out-of-pocket expenses on health care that is not covered by Medicare and private insurance as a retiree.

Tip: To curb the costs, consider advance care planning and participate in health care-related conversations with your family to address concerns before a crisis hits. Speak with loved ones about your wishes and complete any legal documents – an advance directive, living will or durable power of attorney, for instance. Think about appointing a health care proxy or decision maker while you’re still mentally competent. Depending on your health, you might want to look into long-term care insurance.

Pitfall No. 3: Health care costs continue to rise.

The price to treat ailments, insurance and medicine has risen dramatically. Baby boomers will feel it the most as they begin to enter their senior years. There’s an expected 6.5 percent increase in health care costs this year, according to a study from PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute. The good news is growth has plateaued, and it’s no longer in the double-digits.

Tip: Take a look at your coverage and determine if it will accommodate your needs years down the road. If it doesn’t, take a look at other plans and options.

Obstacles can be overcome and you might even be better for it in the end. These health care pitfalls sound daunting, but you can plan a healthy, well-balanced retirement and face this new phase of life with confidence.

Lisa Jones is a financial adviser with Prime Capital Investment Advisors LLC and the firm’s branch manager in Springfield. She can be reached at ljones@primecap-ia.com.

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