Last Updated: May 4, 2009
As fears about swine flu sweep the nation, financial planners suggest that now may be a good time to review how well prepared you are should you or those closest to you become infected with the virus.
The first order of business is to gather information and be prepared as possible. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has information and checklists such as the HHS' Guide for Individuals and Families. It suggests that you consider services that could be disrupted including food and water supplies, how schools and daycare centers could be closed for extended periods of time, as well as medical care for people with chronic illnesses.
In addition, HHS notes that "it is important to think about health issues that could arise if an influenza pandemic occurs, and how they could affect you and your loved ones. For example, if a mass vaccination clinic is set up in your community, you may need to provide as much information as you can about your medical history when you go, especially if you have a serious health condition or allergy." Given that, HHS recommends that you create a family emergency health plan.
According to HHS, you should also think about the following: your insurance, leave policies, working from home, possible loss of income, and when not to go to work if sick. Many Americans don't have health insurance. According to a survey by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the number of Americans without health insurance has climbed by 9 million to 45.7 million since 1994 and the percentage of people with private health insurance has declined to 67 percent from 73 percent. So be sure to determine how you might pay for medical expenses should you become infected with the virus.
Financial planners and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) note that it's always important to understand all of your insurance policies, including health, life, and short- and long-term disability. This may be a good reminder to review and update your insurance policies, if necessary.
Adequate health insurance is a must, FPA member Amy Jo Lauber, CFP®, director of financial planning at Harold C. Brown & Co., LLC. It's late in the game if you don't already have it, but do consider buying it or working for an employer that provides coverage for you, your spouse and dependents if possible. "Obtaining coverage for any future illnesses is crucial to financial stability," Lauber said. "Most bankruptcies are the result of medical expenses incurred by those who are uninsured."
In addition, Lauber recommends that you review your short-term disability insurance policy to determine what income may be available if you become ill and unable to work. Your human resources or employee benefits department should have this information.
"The need for life insurance may be a factor, unfortunately," Lauber said. "Many employers offer a small amount of coverage, but individuals should meet with a CFP® professional to determine how much and what type of life insurance is needed for their unique situation, and that they can reasonably afford to maintain."
The NAIC suggests answering these questions about your health insurance policy:
- Does your policy require a pre-authorization for hospital admission or other services?
- What is your co-payment for the most common H1N1 treatments? The two drugs doctors can
prescribe to treat H1N1 flu are Tamiflu and Relenza. In addition, you should know of any limitations on the number of doses covered by your policy – per prescription or per year.
- What is your out-of-network co-payment? If your area is heavily affected by the spread of the H1N1 flu outbreak, your regular physician might not be able to see you in a timely manner. If you must go to an out-of-network provider, be aware you will likely pay a higher co-payment for your office visit and any tests run during the visit.
Learn more tips from NAIC.
Should you become ill, FPA member, Kim Nourie, CFP®, CPA of Cross Financial Services, says it's important to have a policy and a mindset that you don't ignore going to the doctor until you have severe symptoms for prolonged periods of time. "By allowing your health to deteriorate, you will likely end up using savings and investments for health care needs rather than other goals you saved for or end up in poor health unable to enjoy what you saved," she said.
Besides checking your insurance policy, HHS suggests that you might also search for volunteers who can help you if you become infected. "Those most in need are typically the elderly, single parents of small children, or people without the resources to get the medical help they will need," said HHS.
In addition, HHS suggests that you should identify other information resources in your community, such as mental health hotlines, public health hotlines, or electronic bulletin boards. And HHS recommends that you should find support systems — people who are thinking about the same issues you are thinking about. Learn more about Individual and Family Planning.
In addition, HHS recommends that you be prepared for any emergency by stocking a supply of water and food. "During a pandemic you may not be able to get to a store. Even if you can get to a store, it may be out of supplies. Public waterworks services may also be interrupted. Stocking supplies can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages and disasters," HHS said.
If you own a business, HHS recommends the following:
"In the event of pandemic influenza, businesses will play a key role in protecting employees' health and safety as well as limiting the negative impact to the economy and society. Planning for pandemic influenza is critical." To that end, HHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have developed a checklist for large businesses. It identifies important, specific activities large businesses can do now to prepare, many of which will also help you in other emergencies. Learn more tips from the CDC.
Finally, having adequate emergency fund savings is always important, Lauber said. You can use that fund for living expenses if you become unable to work or to pay for medical care, if you are uninsured or if insurance will not cover certain expenses. The general rule of thumb used to be three-to-six month's worth, but now it's six-to-twelve month's worth of living expenses, she said. Keep that money in a safe, risk-free type of account with a bank or credit union, Lauber recommends.