MONEY Health Care

How to Fix Your Finances…By Fixing Your Blood Pressure

Blood Pressure Gauge
Anthony Harvie—Getty Images

High blood pressure is hazardous to more than your health. Here's how to ease the impact on your finances.

High blood pressure affects one in three adults in the United States. It can have a major impact on your health, of course; as a financial planner, I’m also conscious of the negative consequences it can have for your finances, too.

The challenge with high blood pressure is that it does not cause a person to feel ill. With health care costing as much as it does, it is easy to forgo treatment for an illness that doesn’t cause many symptoms. So many people leave their high blood pressure untreated.

The end result of this inaction: greater illness and higher health care costs down the road. Untreated high blood pressure leads to heart disease, strokes, or heart and kidney failure. Not treating high blood pressure is a perfect example of being penny-wise and dollar-foolish.

So given the importance of treating high blood pressure, what can people do to control the current cost of their illness? A couple of actions can go a long way.

Improve Your Lifestyle

An unhealthy lifestyle is the most common way people develop high blood pressure in the first place. Weight loss, regular exercise, salt reduction, and limiting alcohol are cheap ways to potentially eliminate the disease. These aren’t easy changes at first, but by developing a new lifestyle as a habit, the new behavior gets easier with time.

A healthy diet is also important, but a diet heavy in vegetables, fruit, and unprocessed food can cost a lot and require time-consuming amounts of cooking. One way to mitigate this cost is to become an “Iron Chef”: work with the raw material at hand. Go with what’s on sale in the grocery aisle, or even better, hit the farmer’s market. Spend a couple of hours on days off to cook enough to last most of the week.

Manage Your Medicine

Doctors choose medication to treat high blood pressure based on a number of factors. Concurrent illness, other medication, demographics, and potential side effects all play a role. The good news is that most medication used to treat high blood pressure comes in generic form, and the generics work just fine. Generics are cheap. In fact, some pharmacies will provide generic medication for high blood pressure for free! Your doctor will know if these opportunities are available in your area; it’s up to you to ask about the options.

The most important part of medication management is consistency. Medication taken regularly and about the same time everyday results in better blood pressure control. Ideally, people brush their teeth every day, so why not put your medication by the toothbrush and make it part of the routine?

If your blood pressure is too high, the doctor will see you every couple of weeks or so until it is in a good range. If blood pressure is well controlled with lifestyle and medication, doctor visits are reduced to once or twice a year, depending on other health issues. Better control results in fewer doctor visits, which reduces the cost of care.

High blood pressure doesn’t have to be costly. By being forward-thinking about it, you can greatly improve the quality and length of your life — and lower your expenses along the way.

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Carolyn McClanahan is a physician, financial planner, and founder of Life Planning Partners. In addition to running her financial planning practice, she educates financial planners, health care professionals, and the public on the intersections of health and personal finance.

MONEY Insurance

Overweight? The Skinny on Insurance

Junk Food
Unhealthy food and lack of exercise can have an impact on insurance planning. Dwight Eschliman—Getty Images

Buying life, disability, and long-term care insurance poses special challenges for people who are overweight or obese, explains a financial planner who's also a physician.

While people think of illness as something that can strike at anytime, that’s not really true for the majority of illnesses that can affect a financial plan. That’s because so many of those conditions affecting people’s finances relate to being overweight or obese. You can literally see the problems that may arrive.

Financial advisers need to be aware of health issues that their clients face; weight and lifestyle are very good places to start. People usually start working with a financial planner once they reach their 20s or 30s — coinciding with the same period people settle into a lifestyle that will determine their future health.

Financial planners: Does your client exercise regularly and avoid unhealthy foods? Or is he or she more likely to watch sports than actively participate? Understanding a client’s lifestyle can improve planning in many areas and may actually spark a healthy lifestyle change for your client.

A key element of a financial plan is insurance. Do you have any young, overweight, and otherwise healthy clients with no plans to change their trajectory? Ask about their family history. If a close family member has diabetes or heart disease, there is a very high chance that your young client will develop the same problem. These illnesses don’t happen overnight – they develop over a number of years. Getting proper insurance coverage early is key in this situation.

The good news: The epidemic of obesity in the U.S. has made it easier for obese people to qualify for good rates on disability, life insurance, and long term care insurance. Since 68% of our population is overweight or obese, who would the insurance company sell policies to if they were too strict on people with weight problems?

The problem is that once a person has actually developed a health problem related to obesity, insurance companies will show no mercy. Getting coverage will be extra difficult.

So what should an overweight person be doing about insurance?

  • Life insurance: Although I usually recommend term life for most clients, you may want to take out a permanent life policy. A person may be uninsurable 10 or 20 years down the road when the term is up. Obtain a rider to waive the premium for disability – this will guarantee that the policy stays in force even if the insured can no longer pay premiums because of disability.
  • Disability insurance: Maximize coverage and consider graded premiums — annual premiums that start out low and rise with age. Since someone who is obese is more likely to claim disability before someone who isn’t, putting off paying high premiums may be a way of avoiding them altogether.
  • Long-term care insurance: Investigate coverage at a younger age. Most people start thinking about long-term care insurance in their fifties. For people with known risk factors, it makes more sense to begin looking in their forties.

Planning is challenging with a young person on the path to poor health. It is important for them to be insured because their risk of illness may affect their ability to save down the road, and they may incur significant health expenses. These conversations are tough for a planner and client to have, but valuable for the client. By addressing lifestyle and health issues in planning, and paying attention to health along the way, planners can help maximize the client’s enjoyment of life now and prepare them for what the future holds.

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Carolyn McClanahan is a physician, financial planner, and founder of Life Planning Partners, Inc. In addition to running her financial planning practice, she educates financial planners, health care professionals, and the public on the intersections of health and personal finance.

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