Why Health Plans Need to Be a Family Affair

You owe it to yourself and your family to build a health plan for your future

I have interviewed countless healthcare experts about why people should build a personal health plan in tandem with their later-life financial plan. Both plans then can be used to help people figure out the kinds of lives they will be able to lead, and afford, in their 70s, 80s, and even later.

While the experts usually had impressive professional credentials, nearly all of them based their advice on a family event that had framed their own views. It usually involved one or both parents. And it frequently involved an unforeseen health problem that thrust the entire family into an emotional and, oftentimes, financial crisis.


These are the things that shape even the lives of our experts – people trained to anticipate and cope with difficult life events. Their experiences have convinced me that:


  • You owe it to yourself and your family to build a personal health plan for your future.
  • Your family must be part of this process.
  • There is no way to get there without having sensitive and often challenging conversations that nearly no one looks forward to.
  • You need to have these conversations a lot earlier than you think.


While you may be as fit today as the proverbial fiddle, this probably will not be the case when you are older, and it certainly won’t be the case if you survive into your 80s and beyond. Longevity eventually is accompanied by deteriorating physical and cognitive skills.


In its benchmark 2015 report on caregiving in America, AARP created a profile composed largely of unpaid family members taking care mostly of ailing spouses and parents. The work is arduous and often relentless. It costs the caregivers money, can dominate their life and harm their health, and can lead to serious problems with the caregivers’ own working careers and family dynamics. Even if you can afford to pay non-family members to provide care, it will be increasingly hard to find professional caregivers at any price. Demand is soaring. Growing numbers of baby boomers have begun needing such care, and the supply of workers simply cannot keep up.


So, out of guilt if nothing else, you owe it to the people you love to do everything you can today to help alleviate their future caregiving burden. What might this include, beyond taking good care of your own health? In my own case, my wife and I decided years ago to get private, long-term care insurance policies. The funds to pay these premiums (and, yes, they have gone up) are a non-negotiable part of our household budget. If there is an expensive health shock in the future, we have decided that the equity in our home will be our piggy bank for emergency funds to augment what insurance does not cover.


We have made extensive “end-of-life” folders to help each other and our families. And, a bit like the shoemaker’s children who have no shoes, we have been trying, with limited success, to engage our 30-something sons in family conversations about our future health, caregiving and end-of-life wishes.

Posted on: November 2, 2015
Philip Moeller is co-author of The New York Times bestseller, "Get What's Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security." He is working on a companion guide to Medicare that will be published in fall of 2016. Moeller currently writes for Money Magazine and PBS NewsHour's Making Sen$e, and is a research fellow at the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College.


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