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How Women Can Avoid a Health Care Disaster in Retirement

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With the spotlight on the rollout of open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act's government-run heath care exchanges, you can't swing a high deductible without hitting an American worrying about health care costs.

With luck, that American will be able to afford the tab for any injury suffered from the experience.

That goes double for middle-aged-and-older U.S. women, who typically spend more money on health care in retirement relative to men.

According to an Employee Benefit Research Institute study, retired men are spending an average of $124,000 on health care, while retired women are spending $152,000 -- $28,000 more than their male counterparts.

Some wealth services professionals say women don't save enough to cover their health care costs in retirement.

"For women who play multiple roles as professionals, parents, friends and siblings, life can be chaotic, but scheduling a date with your finances can be one of the most important things to do when life gets crazy," says Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial (AMP). "Planning financially for health care costs is becoming an even more important part of a financial plan as the baby boomers retire, entitlements undergo potential changes and the cost of health care rises. Making time to take a comprehensive look at both your overall financial plan and how you will afford health care in the short- and long-term is crucial."

To help women avoid a health care finance shortfall in retirement, de Baca and Ameriprise offer the following tips:

Be healthy, and stay healthy. Ameriprise advises scheduling and keeping routine dental and medical checkups and staying up to date on preventative services. Prevention and detection can help prevent minor medical issues from becoming major ones, the firm says. It's also one of the best and most inexpensive ways to keep medical bills at bay.

Benchmark your health care price tag. It's vital that women (and men) check their overall health and family health history. Calculate your current annual medical and dental expenses as a starting point. For help projecting what they be in retirement, use an online health care calculator or estimator to help become familiar with treatment costs for a variety of health and dental conditions. has a good health care cost calculator.The medical advice site offers a calculator that lets you know if you qualify for federal subsidies linked to Obamacare, and how much you'll get.

Keep it real. Don't count on Medicare, Ameriprise says.Many woman do in retirement, but Medicare pays only a fraction of retiree health care costs and doesn't reimburse for most long-term expenses. Knowing the challenges you may face with your health, and what they may cost, can make a difference in being prepared.

Build a fund. Reducing debt and saving as much as possible before a woman retires is the simplest way to prepare for an unanticipated need -- medical or otherwise. If your personal financial balance sheet is healthy, Ameriprise says, you'll likely be better positioned to absorb medical costs not covered by Medicare.

Go for long-term coverage. According to Ameriprise's 2013 City Pulse Index, more females (38%) than males (33%) say they cannot afford long-term care insurance. Become educated about various long-term care insurance options to determine if a policy might be right for your situation.

American women have a lot going on already, running families, climbing the career ladder and finding time for volunteering and exercising. Taking some common-sense health care money steps is a wise addition to that list.

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