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Preparing to Live a Long, Healthy Life

Long-range planning should include both wealth and health management.

On Jan. 24, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing titled Turning 65: Navigating Critical Decisions to Age Well, which highlighted strategies to empower members of the baby boom generation as they move into older adulthood. The committee’s chair, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, opened the hearing with a sobering report on our aging society. She noted:

  • About 49 million Americans are already 65 or older.
  • This number is estimated to grow to 98 million by 2060.
  • Over the next twelve years, 10,000 Americans will turn 65 each day.
  • More than one out of four Americans who live to age 65 can expect to live into their 90s.
  • Americans age 85 and older are the fastest-growing segment of our population.
  • The second-fastest growing age group is 100 and older.
  • Genetics determines 20 percent of longevity; lifestyle and environment dictate the other 80 percent.

As Collins highlighted in her remarks at the hearing, to maximize health and well-being it’s important to stay physically active, eat well, converse with friends, read engaging books, do something meaningful every day, and take proactive steps to improve wellness. She noted that in her home state, many people are isolated in rural areas and may not have access to resources to assist them during the aging process.

Committee ranking member Bob Casey, D-Pa., noted that almost 26,000 Pennsylvanians are paying a lifetime late enrollment penalty for Medicare Part B. Nationwide, almost 700,000 Americans are on the hook for the lifetime penalty. The average penalty amounts to almost a 30 percent increase in a person’s monthly Medicare premium.

Jim Borland, acting deputy commissioner for communications at the Social Security Administration, said at the hearing that the agency offers resources to help Americans navigate their Social Security and Medicare benefits. In fiscal 2017, SSA paid $934 billion to Social Security beneficiaries. Of that, $793 billion went to 51 million retired workers, spouses and children of retirees, and the survivors of deceased workers.

One of the newest resources SSA has created is Your Retirement Checklist, which highlights many of the issues Americans face when deciding the best time to claim their earned benefits. SSA also offers several useful calculators, including the Retirement Estimator, which allows a user to input a few pieces of personal information and receive an estimate of benefits at various ages.

Everyone should know how to obtain their individual Social Security statement, which provides information on lifetime earnings and estimates of future benefits. Individuals can access their statements by creating a My Social Security account. SSA mails statements to those 60 and older who are not receiving Social Security benefits and don’t have a My Social Security account.

Anna Maria Chávez, chief strategy officer at the National Council on Aging, pointed out that according to a 2017 BlackRock survey, the average pre-retirement baby boomer—defined as 55-64 years old—has only $127,000 in savings. Yet NCOA’s Elder Index calculates that people over 65 with a mortgage need a minimum of $31,000 per year just to afford basic necessities like housing, food, health care and transportation.

Federal retirees should be better positioned to retire than many people in the private sector, thanks to government retirement benefits, the Thrift Savings Plan and Social Security.

In addition to financial issues, the National Center for Health Statistics reports that more than 85 percent of Americans 65 and over are coping with at least one chronic health condition, and 56 percent are coping with two or more.

Did you know that falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults, causing hip fractures, head trauma, and death? Chavez pointed out at the hearing that while falls are sometimes treated as simply a normal part of the aging process, they are in fact preventable. The United States spends $31 billion a year in Medicare costs treating older adults for the effects of falls.

My takeaway from the hearing was that we should plan to live longer than the last generation. This means taking precautions to protect your health and well-being. Retirement planning should be based on preparing to be retired as long, or possibly longer, than you spent in your career. This long-range planning should include both wealth management and health management. Both are critical to a long, healthy and satisfying life after federal service.

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