Retiring with Resilience: How Having a Chronic Illness Complicates Retirement


It’s estimated that more than 133 million Americans have some form of chronic illness, which is defined by the CDC as a persistent health condition that lasts for more than three consecutive months. It’s also estimated that 1 in 4 adults in the US has a disability that interferes with normal, daily activities.

And as the population ages, those numbers are only going to climb. That’s a problem, though, because that means that millions of people across the US are going to face the prospect of retiring with a chronic illness — or else be too afraid to retire at all.

The Problem

The biggest challenge in facing retirement when you have a chronic illness, of course, is simply the question of how you’re going to pay for your care. Medical care in the United States is expensive in the best of circumstances.

Factor in chronic illness and the costs can become downright obscene. So when you’re living with an illness or a disability, it’s imperative that you pay attention to your financial health as well as the physical.

Enlist the experts: CPAs, tax consultants, or financial planners, to help shore up your financial well-being not only for your retirement but also for today. Retiring well means building up a strong nest egg that includes planning for whatever your healthcare needs may be in the future.

Know Your Options

If you have a chronic illness, the simple fact is that you may not be able to work to your full retirement age. If you are aged 65 or older, or if you have been drawing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments for 24 consecutive months, then you will likely qualify for Medicare coverage.

However, Medicare doesn’t cover everything, such as routine medical care or prescriptions. For that, you will need additional coverage, such as Medicare Parts B or D, for which you’ll pay a monthly fee and deductibles.

If you don’t qualify for Medicare, or can’t cover the costs associated with the various Medicare plans, then you may be able to receive Medicaid. This provides comprehensive, no- or low-cost coverage for low-income individuals who need it.

Recognizing the Need

The reality is that you don’t have to be approaching retirement age to be confronted with the possibility that your illness or injury will no longer allow you to work.

Millions of Americans are injured on the job every single year. And some of those are career-ending injuries. Prevention, of course, is key. And that means ensuring that workplace safety standards are upheld all the time, every time.

The problem, of course, is that even when every precaution is taken, accidents still happen. People still get hurt. And they still get sick.

And it doesn’t just happen on the job. Our lifestyle choices can also put us at risk. Consider vaping. It’s a craze among the young. Purposely so, as vape manufacturers choose to market products with flavors specifically designed to entice, and hook, young consumers. But those vape cigarettes that seem to be everywhere these days are causing serious injury and illness, even among the young.

If such trends continue, then chances are that it won’t be the baby boomers who are seeking retirement. It’s also younger folks who are simply not well enough to work.

Retiring Early

If you have a chronic illness, your survival might well mean making the decision to retire early. Even when you have the financial resources to do so comfortably, and that can be a big stretch for the majority of us, there may still be some turmoil associated with making that leap.

You might feel guilty or somehow “weak” for having to leave the workforce in your prime earning years. You might feel like you’re letting your family down or depriving them of all they might have had in the future, had you been able to work longer.

But early retirement is not a failing or a weakness. And it doesn’t mean that you or your family has to give up anything, especially if you do a bit of planning and take advantage of all the resources and support to which you are entitled.

What it does mean, however, is that you care enough about yourself and your family to make your own health and well-being a priority. It means having the strength, courage, and humility to recognize and honor your limits. It means knowing how to take care of yourself so that you can be around to take care of your family for decades to come.

The Takeaway

Living with a chronic illness isn’t easy. But it’s even scarier when you’re faced with the prospect of retiring with one. Whether you’ve reached full retirement age or your condition requires you to retire early, you can still live a happy, financially secure, and healthier life while in retirement.

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