Retirees are getting the fattest Social Security raise they have seen in years, but many are likely to spend it all in one place: their doctor’s office.

That’s because the inflation measure used to calculate the cost-of-living adjustment underrepresents how much seniors must pay for health care, critics charge. 

So the 2.8 percent increase for 2019 — $468 and $804 for average retirees and retired couples, respectively — won’t go far. It helps that next year’s Medicare premiums are rising by just $1.50 per month for most people, but many seniors pay for a lot of healthcare beyond those premiums, to be sure.

Lifetime health costs for a 65-year-old couple today are projected to top $404,000 when premiums, deductibles, copays, and dental, vision and hearing care are factored in, according to HealthView Services, a data firm.

Investment firm Fidelity puts the number at $280,000, but doesn’t include as many services.

Stepping onto a vibration-therapy platform recently at Mayo Clinic, 57-year-old Pamela York wasn’t thinking specifically about cutting the cost of her future medical care.

She was, however, curious about the potential bone health and other benefits of vibration, though medical opinions on its efficacy are mixed.

“It feels strange and I’m not used to being shaken, but I feel a sense of deep relaxation,” York said after trying out the platform as part of the Manova Global Summit, a gathering of healthcare, nutrition and tech companies in Minneapolis.

York, a former college swimmer, is keenly interested in how tech is transforming healthcare, for both personal and professional reasons.

She’s a general partner with Capita3, a company that invests in female-led startups working in digital health, nutrition and genomics, among other fields.

Many of the ideas on display at the conference hold the promise of reducing cost and avoiding disease in the first place. Officials for sponsor Walmart said one of the company’s wellness plans has logged more 100-plus-pound weight loss successes than all of the seasons of “the Biggest Loser.”

But overall, the health dividend, like the peace dividend of the early 1990s, has so far been elusive as the industry spends billions on new therapies, electronic records systems and provider mergers while consumer costs continue to bulge.

“I think we’ll get there,” said Shaye Mandle, president of the Medical Alley Association, also a conference sponsor. “But, it’s probably a 10-year journey.”


Janet Kidd Stewart writes for Tribune Content Agency.