A large number of those polled, about 77 percent, also believe that they will be able to go back to work or use retiree health benefits from their former employer (62 percent).
"It seems to me that a decreasing number of employers are providing these (retiree health) benefits," says Munnell. "People may be relying on them and being more optimistic than they should be."
Backup plans for health care expenses
|Use retiree health benefits provided by your former employer||62%|
|Draw down savings||57%|
|Return to work if you need to||77%|
|Apply for Medicaid||52%|
|Seek financial support from other family members||17%|
And returning to work for health insurance may not be a viable option either. "Let me assure you that there is nobody out there giving already retired people, who are working part-time, medical benefits. It's not even out there," says Birkofer.
Well, it may be out there to a small extent, but not enough to meet potential demand.
The seemingly most logical choice for handling health care shortfalls was eschewed by a significant number of people. About 37 percent of respondents say that they are either not at all likely or not too likely to draw down their savings to pay medical bills.
"I want to know if some of these people don't grasp what these kinds of costs can be," says Lunt. "It's not like it will be an extra $50 and you can get it out of the seat cushions on the couch."
Similarly, the least popular option -- relying on family for support in retirement -- may actually be more probable than people care to imagine.
"I ask my clients what are the three sources of income in retirement? And, I say work is not an option forever, so it's not a source," says Birkofer. "The answer is government benefits, savings or your family. And you can always see them shifting around when I say family, because it's not something that people want to consider.
"But it is going to be an option for a lot of people," he says.
This national random-digit-dialed phone study of 1,004 adults 18 or older was conducted for Bankrate by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media. The surveys were conducted from May 30, 2008 through June 1, 2008. The sample was weighted by demographic factors including age, gender, race, education and census region to ensure reliable and accurate representation of adults in U.S. households. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3 percentage points. For full results and methodology, download this PDF.