The Importance of Health Literacy in Retirement Plans

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You may have noticed by now that for this month, we’ve been focusing and discussing several health literacy topics to help one prepare for the golden years. We’d like to think that this is our way to push awareness in this much-needed retirement facet, more people need to know how to improve on interpreting and taking action on health instructions, to both save on their health and financial needs!

For today’s post, we’d like to take the opportunity to share feedback from retirement experts. We’ll also include some helpful information and details on health literacy. We hope that through this, more individuals (particularly those who belong to the baby boom generation) will have a better shot at achieving the future that they’ve always desired.

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An Enlightening Response from NewRetirement

We’ve reached out to Steve of NewRetirement to share his thoughts on health literacy and retirement. We asked him these questions:

FreeMeddSuppQuotes: What is the connection of Health Literacy and Retirement Plans?

NewRetirement: The issues of poor health literacy are similar to those of low financial literacy — people don’t know about preventative health care or proactive financial planning.  Not taking care of your health, not knowing what to do when a health problem occurs and not accurately following a treatment plan if you do get diagnosed can have both financial and — more importantly — mortal consequences.  Not knowing how to manage money as you age can severely limit options for seniors.

FreeMeddSuppQuotes: How will boomers make sure that their plans are properly equipped with the right health/medical tools and resources?

NewRetirement: Retirement planning resources as well as the medical community need to communicate about the importance of preventative and proactive health measures.  Reminders about yearly physicals, flu shots, and healthy habits can be part of a retirement plan.  Retirement planners can also provide education about the importance of compliance with treatment plans and how to use available health resources.

Hopefully more and more resources adopt a holistic approach to retirement planning.  People of retirement age need guidance that goes beyond which stocks to buy.  Retirement planning needs to include everything from 1) assessing  how to use your home equity to 2) finding the right insurance and strategies to cover out of pocket medical expenses and 3) living in a way that enables the person to be healthy, happy and financially stable — for as long as they live.

Worse yet, people are unaware and are therefore not taking steps to fix the problem.

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Taking the Right Steps from Senior.com

Kimberly Johnson of Senior.com has these nuggets of wisdom to share:

FreeMeddSuppQuotes: What is the connection of Health Literacy and Retirement Plans?

Senior.com: It is crucial for individuals and families to consider the cost of health care as you advance in age and retire with a fixed income.  Health care costs are likely to be your largest expense and it’s difficult to predict before a crisis occurs.  Medicare covers a lot less than people usually think.  Future generations will see a decline in what Medicare covers.  It is important that you get educated today on Medicare, the supplemental plans and the cost of long-term care or continuum care.  You cannot make a true retirement plan without looking at the cost of health care.  At Senior.com we offer education resources so you can improve your health & retirement literacy.  We are also a proven and trusted online retailer offering a wide variety of health care products at affordable prices.  Seniors, caregivers, assisted living communities and families turn to Senior.com to find the right product and save money.

FreeMeddSuppQuotes: How will boomers make sure that their plans are properly equipped with the right health/medical tools and resources?

Senior.com: Those who are wise will consult financial planners who have experience with health care costs.  Unfortunately, many will simply wait for a crisis and then their families will be shocked at the cost.  We will see a continuous rise in bankruptcies in the boomer generation, a sad new national trend.

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More from the Association for Long Term Care Planning (ALTCP)

Samantha Stein of ALTCP has these to say in response to the questions we’ve sent:

FreeMeddSuppQuotes: What is the connection of Health Literacy and Retirement Plans?

ALTCP: A high level of health literacy allows individuals to plan for retirement more effectively. As you may know, retirement plans involve a great deal of concepts and difficult jargon. By improving one’s health literacy through extensive research and constant communication with industry experts, a person may be able to build a retirement plan that will provide comprehensive coverage for years to come.

FreeMeddSuppQuotes: How will boomers make sure that their plans are properly equipped with the right health/medical tools and resources?

ALTCP: Research is always the first step. Get as much information as you can, but be sure that you are learning from reliable sources. Always check facts presented, and be critical of opinions.

ALTCP.org provides a variety of guides, in-depth discussions, and retirement strategies that you can look into. You can also learn about finding coverage for long term care. After all, care services, as you may know, can easily drain a person’s retirement nest egg.

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What We Picked Up Across the Web

Here are some additional input on why retirement plans and health literacy goes hand in hand:

The Case of Hospital Transition

Kimberley Fowler, in an article for A Place for Mom, detailed the impact of having adequate health literacy during hospital discharges. The risk of wrong medication (or even committing to a treatment plan) is high, which may then lead to errors that could have been prevented in the first place.

Reaching Out to Those Who Are in Need of Care and Assistance

A The Good Men Project post, The Patients We do Not See, discussed the importance of improving health literacy by taking a proactive approach to understanding and reaching out to “unseen patients.” With social isolation and the stigma of having poor literacy skills in interpreting health instructions, doctors and local support groups need to step up to connect with individuals (even before seeing or considering them as patients).

A Person-Centered Approach

Health literacy advocacy and how to discover your passion, an article posted on Nurse.com, shared insights on how medical practitioners can advocate and inform patients on how to improve on this much-needed skill. Citing Terri Ann Parnell, DNP, MA, RN, FAAN, principal and founder of Health Literacy Partners and CNO of the advisory board for TVR Communications, a “people-centered” approach will not only help patients learn more about how to manage or understand a medical issue – it may also help doctors and nurses alike to see the beauty in their life’s work!

Avoid the Jargon

Kevin O’Reilly, editor of the American Medical Association Wire (AMA Wire), wrote above how medical practitioners should speak to their patients. By avoiding “Medspeak,” more patients will not be intimidated with treatment plans – expect as well for individuals to stick to what their doctors told them to do!

Assessment of Value: The Patient

In line with the message of placing the patient as a priority, Alan Balch and Darius Lakdawalla in a Health Affairs Blog post highlighted the importance of asking questions. There is no “one patient” – cases differ from each other, and as such, doctors are highly suggested to probe deeper to give health instructions correctly.

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A Compilation of Health Literacy Basics

The lack of health literacy can spell disaster for one. As mentioned above, there is a significant number of individuals in the country who lack the necessary skills to identify, manage, and even prevent diseases. We’re reiterating some more important details on the state of literacy on health in the country:

Adult Health Literacy by the Numbers

As shown in our previous article, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services categorized health literacy skill proficiency in these levels:

  • Proficient Level – 12%
  • Intermediate Level – 53%
  • Basic Level – 21%
  • Below Basic Level – 14%

With the findings done last 2003, do expect the figures to increase – the rise of health care costs and other factors (such as financial health and educational attainment) all affect the current state of health literacy in the country.

Retirees are at Risk

Baby boomers face far more health literacy issues than younger generations. A large number of individuals who belong to the below basic level of health literacy proficiency is 65 years and above.

The Stigma Should Definitely be Addressed

Additionally, it has been observed that inadequate health literacy can also lead to adverse psychological effects. A study conducted by the Department of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, pointed out the shame of having low literacy (mainly from educational attainment) needs to be identified and taken into consideration by health care providers – stressing the point that circumstances do differ from each patient.

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The Next Course of Action

Individuals seeking to improve their health literacy skills should consider these points of action:

Identifying Relevant Health Information

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that the health information that one is referencing to should be:

  • Accurate – health information should not only be clearly explained but should also offer precise and relevant data.
  • Accessible – regardless if it comes from a doctor or sourced online, the way health information is accessed should also be considered. Please take note for online resources to practice caution when looking up information (accessible resource from the Web comes with a price – your personal details may be compromised).
  • Actionable – whether in print or stated by a medical practitioner, health information should always come with a set of instructions or guidelines.

Always Ask

The key to learning new concepts is taking the initiative to ask. Make use of your available resources! Aside from consulting with doctors and medical experts, find out if there are local support groups that you can be part of. Also, speaking with families, friends, and fellow boomers on how to deal or what to expect for the future is a big help! The point is, pushing yourself to stay social will not only keep the blues of aging away – it’s also necessary in helping you learn more about the health care industry!

Learning More about Retirement Solutions is Great for Health Literacy Too

Insurance policies, such as Long Term Care Insurance (LTCI) and Medicare Supplemental Insurance (Medigap), will not only provide you necessary retirement coverage.  As a matter of fact, learning about these retirement solutions and meeting with insurance agents can be the gateway for you to immerse into the health care industry (which then leads to improving your health literacy). Requesting for a supplement quote or even meeting with several agents on the different plans available for your solution will all lead to better retirement plans for you to take advantage of.

We hope that this health literacy overview will help you create retirement plans that will best fit your needs or preferences. Do you have any thoughts, questions, or concerns about this post? Please let us know by leaving a comment below!

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