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'Golden years' not looking shiny

So, what's on the baby boomer's mind these days?

Paying medical bills in their later years, it seems.

What's frightening to an increasing number of boomers as they approach the traditional retirement age is whether they can afford to retire at all.

A survey by The Associated Press and liegoesstrong.com found the two biggest worries boomers have isn't the inability to pursue a favorite activity, facing a major illness or even dying from it.

No, their main concerns are intertwined in many ways -- whether they'll be able to pay their medical bills in later life and whether they'll lose their financial independence, which is something one whopping medical bill can cause if you're not in a group medical plan.

More than two out of every five boomers who responded in the poll were very or extremely worried about being able to pay their medical bills in later life (43 percent) and losing their financial security (41 percent).

The fates are conspiring against those born from 1946 through 1964. The recession showed just how fragile savings plans, like a 401k, can be. Health care costs are projected to continue to soar over the next decade, and health care reform doesn't appear to have done anything to slow the increases down. No one has a lot of confidence that Congress that can't deal with borrowing limits and the national debt issues without first worrying about whether party politics will ever come up with a way to ensure that Social Security will be solvent.

They've seen a net loss of 5 million jobs in the past four years hit the U.S. economy, and for the first time fewer than half of Americans are footing the tax burden for everyone.

Who can blame the boomer contemplating retirement for having a bad case of the jitters and a splitting headache when thinking about the so-called "golden years"?

The first boomers who hit the "magic" retirement age of 65 this year are probably in better shape than the younger members of the generation. They're much more likely to be locked in with benefit pension plans, good retiree medical insurance and Social Security. But as companies have cut back over the past several years, string after string on those post-employment parachutes have been regularly snipped.

In its report on the poll Thursday, the AP noted that one study found that a couple, each 65, who retired this year and who had Medicare coverage, would need an average of $230,000 to cover post-employment medical expenses just to cover routine expenses such as Medicare premiums, co-pays, deductibles and non-covered prescription costs. And that doesn't take into account long-term care, such as living in a nursing home. More than four out of five boomers said they have no private long-term care insurance policy, which can run $1,000-$8,000 a year and just gets more expensive as you get older.

The best solution? It may be to just not retire. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that nearly 7 percent of Americans 75 and older worked last year, and that nearly 30 percent of those ages 65-69 worked at least part time last year. As one financial adviser noted to the AP, you're not chipping away at your nest egg while you're still employed.

Worrying about all this is enough to give a boomer a headache.

And what makes it worse is wondering whether you can afford the aspirin.