Outliving your Money: Retiring with HIV
“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.” — Rabindranath Tagore
Here’s a “savings” stat to scare us as we head off to work on a Monday morning. According to Money magazine, “57% of workers age 45-50 have saved less than $50,000.” Earlier this year, I wrote a post about The Longevity Risk and outliving our money. While this is a valid concern for healthy people, how does it change when you’re living with an illness?
I recall a colleague telling me ten years ago in a very matter-of-fact way that he was HIV positive. Although the Grim Reaper wasn’t hanging out on his stoop, I remember him saying that he didn’t expect to live past fifty. We both recently turned forty and have remained friends. He’s been living a healthy life for over decade and I suspect he could live another two decades. He believes this too because at some point in his late thirties, he quit the circuit parties, saved money and bought a condo in Los Angeles. He started living and planning like someone with a future… a future where he didn’t want to be poor.
A couple of years ago, David Tuller reported on this “living longer” trend in The New York Times. He quotes Winthrop Cashdollar, a disability expert at the Health Insurance Association of America, a trade group in Washington where Cashdollar “acknowledged that insurers had changed their policies about reviewing HIV-related claims to correspond to the new medical reality.”
“Until fairly recently, AIDS was an imminent death sentence, so claims tended to be approved quickly and paid,” Mr. Cashdollar said. “And perhaps there was no review to speak of. Now there has to be, because HIV-AIDS has become manageable, like some other diagnoses.”
Jim Weinstein, a life consultant and therapist specializing gay and lesbian issues, weighs in with a clinical perspective in this article: Ecstasy, Pain, Anxiety, and Shame–The Psychological Complexities of the HIV+ Man.
He writes, “Even more common today is the reverse scenario: men who went out on disability or cashed in their life insurance five or ten years ago, counting on living out their last days in relative comfort and peace, only to be faced with the necessity of reentering the work force now that their HIV is under control. But how? How to bring rusty skills up-to-date? How to explain the employment hiatus? Finally, there’s the dilemma of feeling trapped in a job that is no longer fulfilling, but that can’t be left because the insurance benefits are so important.”
Anybody noting a trend? Joe Kapp and Nicholas Burkholder, the Your Money columnists at The Advocate explored this topic recently in HIV and Retirement. They write, “George Kresslein just celebrated his 50th birthday, an especially meaningful milestone for the Virginia accountant since he never thought he’d live that long: Fourteen years ago he was diagnosed with HIV infection, when such news was considered a death sentence. But having survived the disease thus far, Kresslein has a new worry: planning for retirement.”
“The reality is, I never thought I would reach retirement, so I did not save for it,” he says. “In fact, I cashed in my life insurance and pulled money from my retirement plans.”
Click over to The Advocate to read their advice. Hint: “The basic actions are the same for anyone who hasn’t seriously thought about his or her financial future.”
Timothy Critzer from the San Francisco Spectrum offers similar advice when asked by an HIV+ man if he should be contributing to the 401 (k) plan at his new job. Critzer replies, “Let’s explore some risks associated with making contributions to a retirement plan now that you have HIV. If you do make contributions to the plan, then you face the risk of not being able to spend these funds during your lifetime. However, if you choose not to make contributions, then you run the risk of living past retirement age and not having enough money to support yourself.”
“Neither risk is attractive, that’s for sure. However, I find the second scenario to be the more frightening of the two. Even with Social Security benefits, most of us would still have a tough time making ends meet in retirement without additional savings like 401(k)’s and IRA’s. Just ask any currently retired person about how they struggle to do this even at today’s prices.”