Eying medical costs, budgets

October 19, 2009
| By Tom Cole |
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For those with incomes far greater than daily needs, discretionary income goes to investing, charity, fun or all of them. For most of us, it requires determining the “value” of things we buy by comparing benefit against cost. At one time that value focused on “needs” limited to food, shelter and clothing, but in today’s world those now include transportation (cars), communication (phones), entertainment (TV service) and, because of our hectic working families, eating out or takeout food.

We don’t seem to bat an eye at renting (does anyone “buy” one anymore?) a car for $4,000/year ($8,000 for two), cell service at $1,200/year, or TV service (for channels we never watch) at $1,800/year — or the $5,000/year we spend eating food we don’t prepare. However, we complain bitterly about having to pay anything for medical care. Even those with medical insurance gripe about the annual out-of-pocket costs they might incur to reduce the monthly premiums they will incur so they can buy the aforementioned “necessities.”

We have moved away from the original purpose of buying insurance to protect against catastrophic financial loss to having it cover non-catastrophic care — doctors visits, prescriptions for temporary infections/pain, routine health checkups, labs, occasional diagnostic tests , and even routine dental and vision care. These are not catastrophic costs when compared to what we spend on those other “necessities,” but we don’t consider them a priority when putting together a family budget.

Health care decisions seem to look at medical expenditures as something apart from other “priority” things we buy. Maybe it’s time we put it after food, shelter and clothing and before cars, phones, TV and eating out.

Tom Cole is a principal with P3HR Consulting & Services LLC.

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