We all try our best to take care of ourselves and the circle of people we care deeply about. We do this by taking the time out of a day to exercise, refueling our mental juices by reading our favorite books and telling our loved ones that we are there for them. However, we are mere mortals that are not immune to accidents and the workings of genetics – one day you or someone around you will have the worst day of their life. It may be a car accident, a bad news from the doctor, a fire at your house. In the face of these unpredictabilities, the best we can do is harm reduction and do so by preemptively preparing for the future.
When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I could not cry. I could not cry because I knew at that moment, she needed me to be at my peak performance. I needed to be strong, logical, and resourceful. What hospital should she be going to? How should we be paying for the hospital bills? Who is going to be filing for her 2017 taxes? Can we pay her mortgage? I was aging by the hours and took on many responsibilities that I was not ready for. As she is finishing up her chemotherapy, I decided to put together a practical guide on how to put in place mechanisms to protect you and your family’s health.
- Make sure you and your family are communicating during Open Enrollment Periods. Whether you are covered by your employer or selecting a plan from the government marketplace, there are decisions to be made on what kind of healthcare you will be receiving in the next 12 months. If you are expecting to only see your primary doctors for regular check-ups, HMOs (Health Maintenance Organization) will be a good option. HMOs match you up with a doctor and you usually can get all your medications and exams all in-house. If you have a doctor that you have been seeing for a long time, check beforehand whether that doctor is in your health plan’s network or else you will be incurring out-of-network charges. PPOs (Preferred Provider Organization) give you more options in choosing doctors, and your doctor will have a higher chance of being in-network. This is also great if you expect to be seeing specialists, such as a podiatrist, an oncologist, etc.
- Set up an FSA account. Think of this as a tax-free accumulation account for all your medical expenses. You don’t even have to report it to the IRS in your tax return! You can go on your days and pay out-of-pocket for all your cares, and submit claims by the mid-March of next year to have them reimbursed through your FSA account. Some eligible expenses include contacts, lip balms, breast pumps, etc.
- Using HSA as a healthcare account as well as an investment vehicle. Often confused with the FSA account, this is an account that follows you as you move along employers. Employers typically will contribute at the same time you are contributing to it. You can easily rack up in thousands depending on your company policy. It’s also the only triple tax-advantaged account out there, meaning your contribution via payroll to the HSA is tax-free, the account balance grows tax-free (eg. interest, dividends or capital gains), and withdrawals for medical expenses are tax-free. It can’t get better than this.
- Be an owner of your health data. With the lack of consumer protection surrounding digital health data collected by companies such as Fitbit, your health data may already be exposed. However, that should not discourage you from actively tracking your health data. Take advantage of advancing technology and feed it your data to gain visibility into your health. You may be able to predict higher stress level by the irregularity of your sleeping pattern, gain insight into your metabolism or just the basic calories intake versus daily recommended amount. This takes time and effort, but it is taking the guardian of your health into your own hands.
Just having the awareness that your health assets can have added protection will relieve lots of stress when the time comes. To lead a happy life, you will also need to lead a prepared life.