Medical and long-term care costs represent a substantial uninsured risk for most retired households. A recent brief from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College reported new findings on average lifetime health care costs at selected ages and on the distribution of those costs. This brief explores the relationship between health care costs and health status. It considers whether current good health is a predictor of low health care costs over one’s remaining lifetime. If so, healthy households could set aside less for health care expenditures than the unhealthy, and households that stay healthy could release for general consumption money that they had previously set aside for health care costs.
Their main finding is that although the current health care costs of healthy retirees are lower than those of the unhealthy, the healthy actually face higher total health care costs over their remaining lifetime. To illustrate, the expected present value of lifetime health care costs for a couple turning 65 in 2009 in which one or both spouses suffer from a chronic disease is $220,000, including insurance premiums and the cost of nursing home care, and 5 percent can expect to spend more than $465,000. The comparable numbers for couples free of chronic disease are substantially higher, at $260,000 and $570,000, respectively. This brief explains this somewhat counterintuitive finding.