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What women need to know about health care in retirement

Learn how Medicare, Medicaid and long-term care factor into retirement planning.

It is important for everyone to understand the types of health care coverage available to retirees. Since women live longer and are also often the primary caregivers for elderly family and friends, it is especially vital that women familiarize themselves with how the system works.

According to the Social Security Administration, women who turned 65 in 2019 were expected to live, on average, an additional 21.5 years compared with 18.9 years for men.1 As a result, women represent 55.3% of all Social Security beneficiaries age 62 and older, and approximately 63.9% of beneficiaries age 85 and older.1 That means women need to prepare for a longer retirement.

You may also find yourself providing care to an older relative or friend, which may necessitate lifestyle changes. Most older people with long-term care needs – 65% – rely exclusively on family and friends to provide that assistance.2 And according to the Family Caregiver Alliance, an estimated 66% of those caregivers are female.2 Whether you are preparing for your own retirement or helping a friend or relative, it’s critical that you understand the various ways that retirees can pay for health care.


Medicare is the primary source of health care coverage for most retirees. You will become eligible for Medicare at age 65. If you’re already receiving Social Security benefits when you’re 65, you’ll be automatically enrolled. Otherwise, you will need to begin planning how and when you will enroll.

In addition to enrollment in Medicare, you will also need to choose which type of Medicare coverage you will receive. Here are some of your basic options:

  • Part A helps you pay for in-patient hospital care, home health and hospice care.
  • Part B helps cover physician services, lab tests and physical therapy. Parts A and B compose what is referred to as Original Medicare.
  • Part C (aka Medicare Advantage) is a plan offered by private insurers that combines the coverage of parts A and B, and may offer additional coverage for dental, vision and other services. Medigap is another form of private insurance that provides coverage that supplements, but does not replace, Medicare parts A and B.
  • Part D provides prescription drug benefits. This can be purchased along with Original Medicare or may be included in a Medicare Advantage plan.

Keep in mind that Medicare doesn’t cover everything all the time. You’re still going to have to pay for some things out of pocket. Visit Medicare.gov to find out more about how these programs work and how to enroll in them.

Long-Term Care

Long-Term Care is another important consideration. LTC refers to a variety of services, including personal tasks such as bathing, getting dressed or taking medication, as well as more medically intensive ones such as physical therapy. These services may be needed when someone has a chronic health situation or disability such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Medicare does not cover LTC and the bills you’re left to cover on your own can be expensive. That is why you should consider buying a separate long-term care insurance policy. These policies can be very expensive as well, but based on your individual situation, may still be a good option.


Medicaid is a government-sponsored program that helps people pay for health care expenses. While Medicare is an insurance program, Medicaid is a public assistance program that provides for low-income individuals. Unlike Medicare, Medicaid typically covers more LTC costs; however, not all providers will accept Medicaid.

To qualify, your assets and income must fall below certain limits. These limits vary from state to state. Medicaid and Medicare can sometimes work in conjunction with each other, meaning that Medicare will cover costs up to a certain amount and Medicaid, if you qualify, could cover the rest.

Retirement health care is not only a critical part of retirement planning, but it can also be confusing. Whether you are planning your own retirement or facing the possibility of becoming a caregiver for a retired relative or friend, now is the time to learn more.

1 Social Security Administration. (2021, January). Fact Sheet: Social Security. Retrieved February 17, 2021, from https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/factsheets/women-alt.pdf

2 Family Caregiver Alliance. Women and Caregiving: Facts and Figures. Retrieved February 18, 2021, from https://www.caregiver.org/resource/women-and-caregiving-facts-and-figures




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