By Sandy K. Johnson

There is a universal truth about aging:  You get serious about health care and retirement finances after you turn 50.

A panel of advocates described an array of money and health policy issues for National Press Foundation fellows: John Rother, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care; Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works; and David Certner, legislative policy director for government affairs at AARP.

Altman pointed out that the average Social Security retirement benefit is $1,348 per month. This becomes important because almost half of working-age households have zero retirement savings, meaning they will be reliant on Social Security.

“As polarized as Americans are about many issues, they are not polarized about Social Security,” Altman said, citing a Pew Research Center survey that showed 68 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats oppose future reductions in Social Security benefits. She said people believe “It’s an earned benefit,” which is why congressional efforts to reform the entitlement fail with regularity.

Certner said only half the population is covered by any type of pension plan. That means people increasingly rely on individually-managed accounts. “You have to save, you have to invest, you have to make sure that money lasts your lifetime,” he said.

More than 25 states are considering creating state-facilitated retirement savings plans for small business employees, who rarely are offered traditional pensions.

“There’s a lot to think about once you reach 65,” and Medicare and Social Security are complicated and confusing, said Rother. For low-income people, Medicaid adds another layer of complexity because where you live determines how the health program operates, as well as its quality of care, he said.

By the time Americans reach their 50s, eight in 10 have at least one chronic disease. Certner said the Trump administration’s executive rollbacks of Obamacare will disproportionately hurt people between 50 and 65 because the law was critical in making health insurance more affordable for people who were previously uninsured.