The bill for health care costs in retirement can be...

The bill for health care costs in retirement can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to one financial company. Credit: Getty Images / Susan Chiang

Health care is the wild card in retirement. Paying for it is often the albatross that weighs on retirement dreams.

A 65-year-old couple retiring in 2016 will need an estimated $260,000 to cover health care costs in retirement, according to Fidelity’s new Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate. This is a 6 percent increase over last year’s estimate of $245,000 and the highest estimate since calculations began in 2002.

What’s the game plan?

  • How fast can you say Health Savings Account?

“An HSA is the most tax-advantaged savings vehicle out there. Contributions are pretaxed, money grows tax free, and when used for qualified medical expenses, the withdrawal is tax free,” explains Jeff Bakke, the Minneapolis-based chief strategy officer of WEXHealth, a provider of cloud-based health care financial management solutions.

After age 65, you can use HSA investments for nonmedical use, and they’re usable even after leaving the job market.

  • Team up

The health care bills don’t just burden seniors, but also their families. Rick Lauber, author of “The Successful Caregiver’s Guide,” suggests siblings split the cost of helping mom and dad.

They can also use senior day programs, instead of hiring in-home help. “These programs are cheaper. My sisters and I placed our father in a hospital day program twice a week when he was declining,” he said.

  • Prepare for the worst

“Have a ‘what if’ fund to fall back on,” says Leslie Tayne, a Melville attorney specializing in financial issues. Even if you have savings, open another for medical expenses. Contribute $50 a month to start until you’re comfortable. Then save more.

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