That lofty sum is what Fidelity estimates the average husband and wife, both age 65 and retiring this year, would need in current dollars to afford medical expenses for the rest of their lives.  You may have already heard that figure since it gets quoted a lot.

But is it realistic?  Some experts argue that it’s too low since it doesn’t include things like dental costs, or long term care, or Medigap.  On the other hand, that figure doesn’t factor in the cost savings that some retirees get because of employer-provided health coverage.

For a more personalized estimate, try AARP’s free Health Care Costs Calculator, at aarp.org/work/work_tools.  On the first page of the calculator, you plug in some personal information (but nothing that identifies you).  The second page asks you to input health conditions that you have now or might have later in life.  And the third page projects how much you-and Medicare-would pay.  It’s eye opening.

AARP’s calculator has limitations, but it gives you something concrete to hang your hat on…and, more importantly, to plan for.

Health habits can prevent or lower health care costs.  According to AARP’s tool, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and an unhealthy weight could cost upwards of $27,000 or more during typical retirement.

But there are also other ways to plan ahead for future health care costs.  New strategies have come out recently that allow you to put money in a savings vehicle that earns interest (not a lot of interest…about what a typical savings account would pay).  But these accounts automatically double if you need the money for things like long term care.  And if you ever need the money for some other kind of unforeseen emergency, you can still get it!  This “win-win” account is a great place for that rainy-day money we all have stashed away!

There are also strategies to give you income in retirement that doubles if you have a health care emergency or need.  These are just two of the many new ideas that have been developed over the last couple of years.

Whatever you do, though, make sure you have a plan in place today to tackle tomorrow’s inevitable health costs.  By planning, you lift that burden off not only yourself, but your loved ones as well.