Financial Literacy From A Healthcare Point-of-View (Part 2)

Background image: Photo I took of my copy of Personal Financial Planning (Eighth Edition)

Note: This article was originally published in LinkedIn on May 17, 2021. It is Part 2 of a 3-Part literacy series.

A Seat at the Finance Table

If you’re here because you read Part 1, I assume it resonated with you and you want to hear & learn more. To that, I say “thank you.”

But if you haven’t already, I do encourage you to read it.

Part 1: Financial Lessons From A Gen-Xer ended with a proclamation that health literacy deserves a seat at the finance table.

I meant it…and here’s why.

Paging through my old textbook, Personal Financial Planning (Eighth Edition), I was reminded of why I became so fascinated with personal finance. It almost reads like a regular book.

*Crickets*

Ok to be clear – more like a Tony Robbins self-help guide NOT a James Patterson or Stephen King novel!

Heeeeerrre’s Johnny!

While the subject of personal financial planning may scare some people away like The Shining, authors/professors Lawrence J. Gitman and Michael D. Joehnk didn’t want the student (or even the casual reader) to feel intimidated. Gitman and Joehnk, to their credit, make finance palatable. In their words, it was “written in a low-key, personal style and uses state-of-the-art pedagogy to present the key concepts and procedures used in sound personal financial planning and effective money management” (Preface, XI).

In case you were wondering, “pedagogy” basically means the art or method of teaching. I looked it up – you’re welcome.

But I digress.

The textbook is organized into 6 parts, or sections, each focused on a different aspect of personal finance.

Curiosity soon set in.

I quickly flipped through the Contents and came across this:

Forgive me for not remembering (this was 20 years ago after all), but I was in disbelief. It was so nice to see an entire chapter devoted to healthcare.

Keeping Up With the Mosses

Naturally, I proceeded to read Chapter 9. From the onset, the authors’ “low-key, personal style” is on full display. In fact, every chapter (15 in total) opens with a profile of “an individual’s or family’s experience with an important financial planning issue related to the chapter content” (Preface, XII).

Brilliant and effective pedagogy if I do say so myself!

Chapter 9 introduces Jim and Barbara Moss, a married couple in their late 40’s with 3 children. Coincidentally, their circumstances (minus kids & marriage) mirrored mine just 4 years ago:

  • Jim left the corporate world and, together, he and Barbara decided to start a business (as did I).
  • Thanks to COBRA (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act), we continued group health benefits under our previous, respective employers but were responsible for paying the entire premium (not just the employee portion).

Unlike me though, the Mosses experienced a major case of “sticker-shock.” But their story didn’t end there.

In a moment of clarity, the Mosses did something that many adult Americans, particularly those with families to support, should be doing but really don’t. They re-evaluated how they use (and spend their hard-earned money on) healthcare services and selected the best coverage for their family.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

By sharing the story of the Mosses, Gitman and Joehnk sought to show the reader/student that proper health coverage plays an essential role in “the personal financial planning process because of the umbrella of protection it provides for your financial plans” (p. 434). When you consider the state of U.S. healthcare at the time of the book’s publication, the financial repercussions of inadequate health coverage (or lack thereof) become abundantly clear to the reader/student.

The authors observed:

  • “The health care field is undergoing rapid changes today as rising health care costs have prompted new ways of delivering health services” (p. 434).
  • “Total national private and public spending for health care in the late 1990s was more than $1 trillion” (p. 434).
  • “Today about 17 percent of all our personal expenditures in the United States are made on health care, an increase from less than 11 percent in 1980” (p. 434).

Here’s the kicker:

  • If insurance products were ranked “on a complexity scale,” Joehnk and Gitman opined, “term life insurance would be at the ‘simple’ end and health insurance at the other end” (p. 435).

Fast-forward to present-day: U.S. healthcare is undergoing rapid changes (AGAIN!) and remains expensive and complex!

Who saw that coming???

Health Literacy…in October?!

Clearly, the authors’ recognition of healthcare’s role in personal finance is relevant now as it was two decades earlier. What’s more astounding is the timing of their book’s publication – it’s practically kismet:

April was later declared FLM by the U.S. Senate in 2004 when it passed Resolution 316. The U.S. House of Representatives followed suit when it passed Resolution 148 a year later in support of FLM’s goals and ideals.

Yet curiously, HLM didn’t receive the same recognition back then despite U.S. healthcare’s trillion-dollar price tag. It wasn’t until October 2019 that the Senate passed Resolution 396 recognizing October as National Health Literacy Month. Of course, we all know what happened next – just months later.

Also, why October?

I couldn’t find an answer. Perhaps it’s because HLM coincides with Open Enrollment. If true, then…really?!

Ahhhh…Open Enrollment – that part of the year when many Americans spend LESS time researching and selecting health coverage options than a computer, television, or car.

HAPPY…Device Appreciation Day???

The better approach, in my view, would be to move up HLM so it occurs at the beginning of every new calendar year, or close to it.

Consider this.

FLM is now behind us. March, in case you didn’t know (I sure didn’t!), was National Credit Education Month. Uncle Sam decided he wanted his money later than sooner.

What’s next?

Well, the incredible folks of National Today, whose mission is to share and celebrate “all the special holidays and moments from around the world”, compiles a list of “financial holidays” celebrated in our country every year.

The list includes:

  1. March: National Credit Education Month
  2. April: Financial Literacy Month
  3. April: Tax Day (Apr 15; May 17 this year)
  4. July: National Lottery Day (Jul 17)
  5. September: National 401(k) Day (Sep 10)
  6. October: Fair Trade Month
  7. October: National Savings Day (Oct 12)
  8. October: National Retirement Security Week (Oct 17-23)
  9. November: Buy Nothing Day (Nov 26)
  10. December: National Device Appreciation Day (Dec 17)

When I saw July and December, I LOL’d (figuratively):

Conversely, our nation has celebrated these health & wellness related holidays:

  1. January: National Blood Donor Month
  2. January: National Glaucoma Awareness Month
  3. February: American Heart Month
  4. February: National Children’s Dental Health Month
  5. March: National Nutrition Month
  6. March: National Kidney Month
  7. March: National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
  8. April: National Alcohol Awareness Month
  9. April: National Cancer Control Month
  10. April: Stress Awareness Month
  11. May: Mental Health Awareness Month
  12. May: Global Employee Health and Fitness Month
  13. May: National Physical Fitness and Sports Month
  14. May: National Asthma & Allergy Awareness Month
  15. May: National High Blood Pressure Education Month
  16. May: Healthy Vision Month

Not only is the above list thru May only, but it doesn’t include EVERY holiday (month, week, day) that has occurred since the beginning of the year. Had I listed every holiday compiled by National Today, the annual list would be INCOMPLETE! I had to check at least 2 other websites to get additional information. By my last count, there are well over 200 (not a typo!) health observances that raise awareness for a variety of conditions and initiatives.

How many can you name?

For Pete’s sake – our nation’s healthcare system is so complex it requires multiple lists!

Go figure.

Enough is Enough

Nutrition, heart & mental health, cancer, etc. These and many other health-related topics affect millions of people in our country and throughout the globe. That translates into billions upon billions of dollars in annual, and oftentimes unnecessary, health spending.

This can’t continue.

If December is a time to celebrate (aside from the obvious) our LOVE for our iPhones, PS5’s, and a gazillion other devices, then October should be reserved for an “Open Enrollment Preparation Day (or Month)” – if it doesn’t already exist – instead of HLM. (Click image below to re-live this Seinfeld classic)

HLM deserves better.

Health literacy deserves better.

Health literacy in the United States should be the springboard for bringing awareness to critical health & wellness issues along with their financial implications, not be some “pre-holiday season” afterthought.

It bears repeating: health literacy deserves a seat at the finance table. Gitman and Joehnk understood this, as did the Mosses. After all, financial & health literacy are more similar than you realize – a revelation I’ll be discussing in Part 3.

Until then, I’m curious to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Have a blessed (tax) day!

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