Your health status is one of the biggest determinants of your ability to enjoy your retirement. It ranks ahead of your financial situation – after all, there is little point having significant wealth if you are not healthy enough to enjoy it.
Health is wealth
No wonder then that many new retirees set about making the most of life in the early years of retirement before health issues set in. The challenge for all of us is to not just have a long life, but to have a healthy one. There are few worse fates than to have a long life without quality of life.
Over time, medical innovations have created opportunities for increased life expectancy. However, this is tempered by issues with access to quality health care at all levels – GP, specialist and hospital level. The better your financial situation, the easier it is to access the services you need.
Things to consider
The shortage of health care professionals means that if you relocate to retire, you may have difficulty finding a GP willing to take you on as a new patient. Depending on where you relocate to, you might have limited access to specialist and hospital services. While this may be less of an issue early in retirement, it becomes a prime consideration later in life, at which time another move may be necessary to be closer to essential services.
Fortunately, technological developments mean you can now access medical services like GPs and specialists remotely. While such services are still in their infancy, they are likely to become more widespread in the future. Southern Cross recently launched CareHQ – an online consultation service offering GP care seven days a week. Other examples are Bettr, which offers online consultations to patients in Auckland and Palmerston North, and MedOnline.
Having health insurance is one way to improve your access to health care. However, there is a high cancellation rate amongst retirees due to the big increase in premiums as you get older. Premiums are higher in old age for good reason – there is a higher probability of claims.
Without insurance, you must rely on the public health system, which may mean going on a long wait list. Insurance is a means of passing financial risk onto someone else. As with all insurance cover, there are three questions to ask:
1. What are the risks?
You may have a known existing health condition which is likely to get worse or lead to other problems. There may be a family history of certain medical conditions.
2. What are the consequences of those risks?
There may be loss of enjoyment of life resulting from non-urgent conditions that put you on a long wait list. If you are still working you may also suffer loss of income through illness.
3. How much risk are you willing to accept?
If you have significant financial assets, it may be possible for you to cover private health care costs yourself without affecting your standard of living. Alternatively, you might choose to have an excess on your policy so you share the risk with your insurer and pay a lower premium.
Hip and knee surgery and cataract surgery are top of the list for health insurance claims and if you have a high risk of requiring any of these, health insurance will help you avoid long wait lists. If you simply can’t afford health insurance, set aside some of your savings in an investment earmarked for covering unexpected health costs. Some retirees choose to keep their KiwiSaver fund for this purpose.
Areas to focus your attention
Of course, there are things you can do yourself to improve and maintain your health. Start by having regular health checks with your GP to monitor key health indicators such as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, PSA etc. It goes without saying that maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly will help you stay healthy. Good sleep is vital for good health, so if you are having trouble sleeping, consider getting help from a sleep clinic.
Your state of mind is closely connected to your physical health, and feelings of isolation and depression can lead to physical illness.