Access to quality healthcare should be part of your longevity plan

by Joseph F. Coughlin

Today, retirement planning is primarily focused on ensuring financial security, but that is not enough to live well in life after career. In my recent MarketWatch article, The Retirement Problem No One Is Planning For, I describe the great health transfer.

While many are focused on the coming great wealth transfer, where trillions of dollars from departing Baby Boomers are forecasted to be inherited by the Millennials and Gen Z, few are focused on the great health transfer that is happening now. The early retirements of physicians, along with the move by many doctors to concierge medical practices, is resulting in the transfer of patients to even more overburdened providers, or left to flounder on their own in search of care.

As people approach their retirement years, many find that they need access to quality care more than ever. They come to depend even more on the physician that they have developed a personal and trusted relationship -- only to discover that the doctor is out. Estimates suggest that the average couple 65-plus may spend an average of $315,000.00 on healthcare across their retirement years. However, given the aging of the physician workforce, and the evolving structure of the healthcare services market, even affluent households may find that having the money does not guarantee access to quality personal care.

The average age of physicians is already approaching mid-50s. In some clinical specialties that particularly care for older people, such as cardiac surgery, the average age is closer to 60 years old. Exhausted by the impact of the pandemic, as well as the crushing administrative and patient load thrust on them by ever-growing healthcare systems, many doctors are retiring early. Even younger doctors are looking to concierge practices, positions in hospital and health insurance administration, pharma, research, etc. as attractive alternatives offering better quality of life compared with traditional clinical practice.

While I focus on physicians in my recent article, the great health transfer includes many of the allied health professions. Early retirement, job stress, and movement away from large practices and healthcare systems, coupled with fewer younger people joining selected health professions, are all factors affecting the availability of nurses, dentists, geriatricians, and other professionals. Each of these is critical to the delivery of care for all of us – particularly in our older age.

Longevity planning goes beyond ensuring financial security. Having money is no longer enough. Not all physicians and hospitals are the same. Today, identifying where, and from whom, you will access the specialized care you are likely to need in older age is as important as having the money to pay for it. Check out my MarketWatch piece for more on the great health transfer and actions all of us, including financial professionals and their clients, can take today to ensure access to quality personalized care tomorrow.

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About the Author

Photo of Joseph F. Coughlin
Joseph F. Coughlin

Joseph F. Coughlin, PhD is Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab. He teaches in MIT's Department of Urban Studies & Planning and the Sloan School's Advanced Management Program. Coughlin conducts research on the impact of global demographic change and technology trends on consumer behavior and business strategy. He advises a wide variety of global firms in financial services, healthcare, leisure and travel, luxury goods, real estate, retail, technology, and transportation.

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