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Employer-Sponsored Retiree Medical Plans Coming Up Short

June 5, 2008
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Related Topics: Retirement/Pensions, Benefit Design and Communication, Latest News
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Employees will need more savings to cover health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket health care expenses in retirement than was previously thought.

This is not all that surprising, given the rise in health care costs and the decline in the number of employers that offer health benefits to retirees.

But the amount retirees will need is a bit of a shocker. According to new information from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a male retiree with health insurance benefits subsidized by a former employer will need at least another $122,000 to have a 90 percent chance at covering all medical costs.

Women, who on average live longer than men, will need even more money: $140,000 for a 90 percent chance to cover all their health care needs.

The news gets worse. Male retirees who rely on employment-based benefits that are not subsidized will need $196,000 to have a 90 percent chance of meeting their health care needs. Women retirees with unsubsidized benefits will need a whopping $224,000.

The EBRI report also said that as high as these levels of saving appear to be, many workers will need even more money because the estimates in the study don’t factor in costs for long-term-care expenses.

Paul Fronstin, EBRI senior research associate and co-author of the report, said the high levels of savings now needed by employees is a result of employers shifting more financial responsibility for retiree health benefits to employees.

He suggested that employers, in the interest of full disclosure, need to do a better job of explaining the big-picture impact of changes to workers’ medical benefits.

Not surprising, the reduction in retiree health benefit offerings may be preventing workers ages 55 to 64 from opting for pre-retirement. EBRI found that the labor force participation rate for workers in that age group from 1996 to 2006 increased from 67 percent to 69.6 percent for men and from 49.6 percent to 58.2 percent for women.

Filed by Matthew Scott of Financial Week, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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