Why Quality Health Care Access in Retirement Matters

When health care coverage is discussed in the news, the topic usually focuses on cost, affordability and the availability of insurance.

But when I talk with individuals and families about health care coverage, my take is quite different. To me, “coverage” means the access to and the quality of health care—in other words, how well will your medical and wellness needs are “covered” by the health care facilities and professionals in your area. As a result of a lesson learned the hard way with my own parents after they retired, it’s become part of the conversations I have with individuals and couples as I help them make important retirement decisions. (For related reading, see How to Find the Right Retirement Community.)

My parents now live in an area that’s become very popular among retirees. The weather is warm year-round. There are plenty activities nearby to keep them busy and active. And the cost of living is reasonable, which will help keep their spending in check and ensure their savings lasts for as long as they need it.

These are all qualities common to places that are looking to attract retirees to grow their communities. While many areas showcase local attractions and amenities that cater to a particular retirement lifestyle, much of their basic and essential infrastructures, including health care and medical facilities, remain a work in progress. Such is the case in my parents’ current community.

For example, hospitals tend to be smaller in many new retirement communities. These hospitals may not have the space or equipment to manage emergency situations or complicated medical procedures. This is particularly important for older residents. The lack of adequate facilities or capabilities nearby could lengthen trips for emergency care when time is most essential.

Plus, health care needs become more acute as people age. Treatments often require the attention of specialists. But not every area has specialists on call. Some specialists may only visit a community once a week. Or patients may have to make extended trips to a larger metropolitan area to meet with doctors who specialize in acute care. (For related reading, see What Will Healthcare Cost After Retirement?)

Here is a short checklist to help measure the health and medical care “coverage” of an area being considering for retirement:

  • Proximity to a metropolitan area – Access to care and physicians will be greater where there are more people.
  • Availability of teaching hospitals or university health care systems – These facilities are often incubators of research and cutting-edge procedures.
  • Growth of practices in key areas of specialization – The expansion of specialists in an area will attract other specialists and improve access.
  • Age of doctors – Younger doctors are typically more interested in growing their practices and expanding the services they provide.
  • Local hospital partnerships – By teaming with larger and more renowned hospitals, smaller facilities gain from following standard processes and can refer patients for more complex care.

Many of us take health care access and quality for granted when we’re younger and relatively healthy, or while we live in larger communities. Hospitals are often close at hand, and the pool of physicians and other medical professionals is deep and wide. We take these expectations with us into retirement, not giving health care much thought as we scout for locations to spend our golden years. Yet they can make a difference in your quality of life during retirement.

Here are three takeaways for reviewing retirement options with consideration to health care needs:

  • Evaluate health care “coverage” in the area – Hospital Compare, available through the Medicare website, is one online resource you can use to research facilities in an area. U.S. News & World Report, Truven Analytics Ratings and The Leapfrog Group's hospital safety scores can also provide rankings to aid your search.
  • Know the specialists for any pre-existing conditions – Locate where these specialists have offices and hospital privileges. Find out if there is a waiting list for new patients as well.
  • Don’t fear a delay in your retirement plans – If you have an ideal retirement location with adequate medical coverage in mind but feel the cost of living is too high, consider retiring later. Adding more to your savings can help you afford a community that suits your needs, rather than compromising your health care coverage. (For more from this author, see: Financial Planning Tips for Parents and Their Kids.)


Milestone Wealth Advisors, Inc. is a Registered Investment Advisor. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.