Financial Literacy From A Healthcare Point-of-View (Part 1)

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Note: This article was originally published in LinkedIn on April 26, 2021.  It is Part 1 of a 3-Part literacy series.

Financial Lessons From A Gen-Xer

In honor of Financial Literacy Month, I recently shared a TEDx talk from a young woman (Harsimran Chohan) about the importance of a financial education. I revealed that, upon watching the video, I personally reached out to congratulate her, something I don’t normally do on this (or ANY social media) platform.

In case you haven’t seen it (which I highly recommend), I’ve reposted Harsimran’s presentation here:

What I didn’t share in that post (but expressed to Harsimran) is that she inspired me to complete an article I’ve been considering writing for the past couple months about a topic that many people can relate to, and is timely & relevant to my business & industry – health literacy.

I must admit, the last time I wrote an article was for my high school newspaper, so I’m a little rusty.

Health literacy?! Allow me to explain…

Although I’ve been in the healthcare industry for almost 20 years (the last 4 years as an independent consultant), I only recently became interested in health literacy as a result of the pandemic. Long story short, I spent the last couple weeks of “the year which shall not be named” researching the topic and was SHOCKED to learn how low health literacy is in the United States.

Fast-forward to April 8th: I came across a Milliman paper that was originally published in February. The headline read: “America’s financial literacy report card-needs improvement”.

Yikes!

For obvious reasons, I decided to read the 6-page paper and, boy, am I glad I did. I came away from it thinking of the parallels between the low rates of financial & health literacy in the United States.

More on that later…

First, let me fast-forward again to April 23rd: I heard about an amazing financial literacy initiative underway in Massachusetts, a state I’m proud to have called a “second home” for 15 years before heading out west. Community college students will have the opportunity to learn critical financial skills through a partnership between the State Treasurer’s Office of Economic Empowerment (OEE) and Money Experience, an e-learning company based in Cambridge.

A Trip Down Financial Memory Lane

Hearing about this reminded me of the time I took a couple finance classes while living in Boston. I had already graduated from Boston University (Go Terriers!), was saddled with school loans, and just started my healthcare career (itself an unexpected but welcomed career path).

Then, it dawned on me: I might still have the books from those classes somewhere around my house.

Sure enough, I was right!

WOW! Considering how old they are, they held up nicely.

Flipping through them brought back some good memories:

  1. I was reminded of the time I took Financial Accounting at Harvard (Extension School). That was a surreal experience. I’ve ventured to Harvard Square and walked through Harvard Yard countless times, but I never imagined I would ever take a class at the prestigious university. “Attended” Harvard – check.
  2. While I don’t recall where I took Personal Financial Planning, I do remember enjoying it so much that it sparked a burning desire within me to learn more about budgeting, investing, real estate, etc. Since then, many of the books I’ve collected and read over the years (both physical and audio) are about finance. Here are but a few:

But they also reinforced a sad truth: college and high school never quite prepared me for the vicissitudes of financial life. Although my college loans have long since been paid off and, within the last 5 years, I’ve bought a condo, started a business, and even become involved in a few other ventures, these “achievements” are overshadowed by the financial struggles I’ve encountered in-between.

Make no mistake: I’m not here to write about and psychoanalyze my life. Instead, I’m here partly to express my confidence that future generations – generations of college students in Massachusetts (and elsewhere), high schoolers like Harsimran, and even young children – will be financially literate by leaps & bounds and be well-prepared for the real world…

…unlike this Gen-Xer (cue Nirvana music).

But What About Health Literacy?!

If you’ve read this far…thank you for your patience.

I started this article (full disclosure: I originally intended it to be just another FLM post, but funny how plans change, sometimes for the better) expressing my surprise toward not only how low the U.S. health literacy rate is, but how it parallels our nation’s underwhelming financial aptitude. The Milliman paper, along with my research, made me reflect on my own (unexpected) journey into healthcare which, at its core, is a finance journey.

After a former colleague (we were part-time customer reps at Fidelity Investments – yes THAT Fidelity!) turned down another job (a contract position) to return home, she recommended I apply for it. That job brought me through the doors of the Underwriting Division (part of Finance) within Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA). The contract lasted about a year when a full-time position opened up in the Underwriting Division’s Account Reporting & Analysis department. I took a chance, applied for & got it!

The rest, they say, is history.

What exactly is Account Reporting & Analysis?

For my fellow health insurance veterans, you may know it as “Account Informatics”, “Account Analytics”, or “Employer-Group Reporting & Analytics”. I’m sure there are other names for it too. But for the uninitiated, I was responsible for generating healthcare cost & utilization trend reports for businesses & other entities fully covered by BCBSMA or have ASO (administrative services only) arrangements with the carrier.

Part of my duties also included preparing & presenting analyses to select groups and (if applicable) their consultants or brokers, describing group plan performance, identifying opportunity areas, and recommending specific actions to reduce healthcare expenses.

But the more I think about it now, my role at BCBSMA (and throughout most of my career) has been, in some ways, to advance financial literacy, on a macro-level, within a healthcare context.

Mind…BLOWN!

Which brings me to the conclusion I arrived to regarding the similarities between health & financial literacy.

Health literacy, when you boil it down, is really another form of financial literacy, just as credit cards, mortgages, and investing are important financial topics we need to learn in hopes of using them effectively in our everyday lives. Therefore, health literacy deserves to have a seat at the financial education table, for reasons I’ll describe in Part 2.

Until then, let me know, in the comments section below, your thoughts on this subject.

Do you agree with my assessment?

Have a blessed day!

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