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Why It Matters:

Maintaining good health can prevent costly medical conditions later in life.

Knowing the most common and costly health conditions helps with preventive steps and financial planning.

Medicare covers many retirement healthcare costs, but not all of them.

As you approach retirement and plan for expenses, healthcare should be top of mind. Inevitably, out-of-pocket medical costs will arise.

No one can predict the future, but you can try to avoid costly doctor visits, prescriptions, and medical treatments by taking healthy steps throughout your journey.

“Our challenge as a society is to impress upon folks that they have some control over their health,” said Steven Houser, Ph.D., director of the Cardiovascular Research Center at Temple University School of Medicine.

Avoiding illnesses and chronic medical conditions in the later years also contributes to a happier life, he said, adding, “It’s not sufficient to live longer if you’re not healthy.”

Bottom line: Poor health costs money

Nearly half of adults in the United States are living with some type of cardiovascular disease, according to recent statistics. Heart disease is the nation’s leading cause of death.1

Cardiovascular disease, which refers to a number of heart and blood vessel conditions, is responsible for nearly 366,000 deaths each year, making it the number one killer among Americans.2

The overall costs of cardiovascular diseases and stroke totaled $351.2 billion between 2014 and 2015. Of that, direct medical costs accounted for $213.8 billion, and indirect costs from lost productivity and mortality totaled $137.4 billion. Total cardiovascular disease costs are projected to increase to $749 billion in 2035.3

Heart attacks and coronary heart disease are two of the 10 most expensive conditions treated in U.S. hospitals.3

Meanwhile, other diseases and chronic conditions in older age affect a retiree’s budget as well.

Diabetes, a contributor to heart disease, kidney failure, and blindness, costs an overall $237 billion per year. Cancer, the second-leading cause of death in the U.S., is expected to reach nearly $174 billion in costs by 2020.4

Prevention pays off

“Taking action now to safeguard your health may limit future medical expenses,” said Dr. Steven Houser, former president of the American Heart Association.

“There are exceptions, but medical research clearly shows living a lifestyle in which risk factors are minimized can help you live into older age without a `cardiovascular disease event,'” he said. Cardiovascular health is also linked to brain health, a key concern in older age.

The American Heart Association recommends adhering to Life’s Simple 7, seven measures that can help achieve cardiovascular health. They are:

Managing blood pressure

Controlling cholesterol

Reducing blood sugar

Getting physically active

Eating a healthy diet

Losing weight

Quitting smoking

"It’s all part of 'a health culture' that can result in a longer, healthier life," Houser said. “It doesn’t mean you can never have an ice cream cone. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a steak on occasion.”

But making seemingly little changes can add up to big health improvements.

At work, set aside a daily time for a brief walk around the block to break up chair time at your desk. Consider using a standing desk and taking the stairs rather than the elevator. Many employers and health insurance policies offer wellness programs that include gym memberships, nutrition counseling, and smoking cessation assistance.

Don’t forget regular physical exams. If you’re young and feeling fine, it can be tempting to avoid annual checkups. But seeing your healthcare provider regularly creates a baseline of information that will be useful years later when there’s a change in your medical condition.

If you haven’t lived a healthy lifestyle most of your life, it’s never too late to start — even as you reach your 60s and 70s. Living healthier later in life is better than never doing it at all.

Financial planning for health

To financially prepare for medical costs during retirement years, learn about Medicare, which is available starting at age 65, and have a backup plan to help pay for what it doesn’t cover.

“Medicare is great, but if you get really sick it’s not going to cover all your costs,” cautioned Houser.

“Worries about having comprehensive health insurance coverage keep many Americans working extra years to remain on an employer plan,” he said.

“One piece of good news for older Americans is some prescription drugs such as those for treating chronic health conditions and cardiovascular disease risks are now relatively low-cost,” he added.

Other retirement healthcare items to think about are the possibility of in-home caregiving or assisted living. Consider pricing long term care insurance plans.

Saving for out-of-pocket expenses helps. Look into flexible spending accounts (FSAs) or health savings accounts (HSAs) that allow you to set aside money for health care expenditures while benefiting from tax incentives.

For example, a health savings account used with a high-deductible health plan is a way to deposit pre-tax money, let it grow tax free, and then withdraw it tax free for qualified medical expenses later — a handy retirement tool.

“Ultimately, the best strategy is maintaining good health, something insurance companies recognize as a way to save money and a move we should all embrace,” said Houser.

“We as a country need to work on this,” he said. “We’ve got to have a holistic approach. We’ve got to keep at it.”

View our helpful infographic on coping with crisis when it comes to cardiovascular health.

Things to Consider

Adhere to the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 to get on a healthy path before retirement.

A supplemental health plan in retirement can help cover Medicare gaps.

Look into whether a health savings plan is right for you as a retirement tool.

2 “Cardiovascular Disease: A Costly Burden for America,” American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, 2017

3 “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics - 2019 At-a-Glance,” American Heart Association, 2019

4 “Health and Economic Costs of Chronic Diseases,”, accessed March 2019

This article was prepared by the American Heart Association (AHA). Financial411 is not affiliated with the AHA and does not control, guarantee or endorse the information. This information does not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911, or call for emergency medical help immediately.


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