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Retirees face reduced health care benefits

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The AARP doesn't like the EEOC's position, but legislative policy director Certner says losing benefits is becoming more and more commonplace among both the employed and retired. He adds retirees are going to see the health care landscape growing even more complicated as time passes.

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"In general, they've cut back on health benefits and there's a huge shift to the individual," Certner says.

Public sector at risk, too
Currently, the estimate for out-of-pocket health care expenses for a couple aged 65 years, over the course of their retired years, runs anywhere from slightly more than $200,000 to slightly under that amount, in today's dollars. Factor in inflation and increasing longevity, and the number gets much bigger.

For many workers, getting on the government payroll meant good health care and, for a lot of those in the public sector, guaranteed lifetime health care benefits at retirement. Now those same government workers, long thought immune from most benefit cuts, find themselves just as likely as those in the private sector to lose benefits. Teachers are particularly at risk.

In general, employers have cut back on health benefits, and there's a huge shift to the individual.

A report by the Pew Charitable Trusts' Center on the States says states will soon face a bill for retiree health care and other nonpension benefits totaling about $381 billion -- and that's exclusive of benefits due to teachers.

In the private sector, many workers now approaching retirement age traded potential salary increases for assurances that they would have health care coverage in retirement. Others took positions or remained with employers strictly for the benefit packages. To find those benefits on the chopping block this late in the game is, for older workers, worrisome.

The work-until-you-drop plan
Senior advocate Koff says most Americans facing retirement have no idea how much of a player health care costs will be in their retirement budgets. "If you take the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers for those that have reached their 60s, they show an excellent likelihood that one member of a couple will live into his or her 90s. Because of this increased longevity, a great deal more of the retirement budget must be reserved for health care expenses," he says.

Koff says he sees a constant eroding of health care benefits for workers in general. It's almost a no-brainer that many employers are going to opt out of providing coverage for Medicare-eligible retirees, no matter what they say in a survey.

For those individuals who don't have the resources to pay upward of $200,000 out of their pockets for health care costs or can't afford to lose their coverage because they have health issues or dependents who need to be covered, here's Koff's one-word fix for this retirement conundrum: "Don't."

Retire, that is.

Koff says working longer may be your best and only option, depending on your health needs. And while that may not be what you want to hear, with retirement health care obligations in position to sink budgets nationwide, this may very well be a case of doing what you have to do to get by, not what you've planned on doing all these years.'s corrections policy -- Posted: April 1, 2008
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Health insurance promises
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