Not long after the Covenant Presbyterian Foundation launched its education campaign on financial planning, Joy Baskin offered to write a story on the importance of family planning. The Foundation is honored by her wish to share her story with you, and hopes it will prompt conversations within your own families.
My husband, JJ Baskin, passed away in March 2015 after a year-long fight against lung cancer. Before his diagnosis in April 2014, he had been a relatively healthy non-smoker. Sure, he could have lost a few pounds and exercised more regularly, but his terminal diagnosis came as an utter shock. Thankfully our family had made some advance preparations that safeguarded our financial well-being. Our walk down this surprising and difficult path has been stressful and sad, but we have not added the risk of losing our home, as many families in our position do.
Health insurance was, of course, essential to ensuring JJ could get the treatment and care he needed. JJ was self-employed, but we were insured through my employer. This was an enormous Godsend. If JJ had gone out into the marketplace to secure coverage for himself, he might have chosen a less expensive plan with less coverage. Instead, through my employer, we had outstanding coverage; several times during JJ’s journey through the healthcare system, medical personnel commented that we were able to access medications or care because of the quality of our coverage that others would have been denied.
Significantly, my employer offered a high deductible health savings plan that covered all medical expenses 100 percent once we met our deductible. During the year of JJ’s cancer treatment, our out-of-pocket medical expenses were no more than we had originally budgeted to spend that year. When you consider the totality of JJ’s experience—all of the tests and scans, doctor visits, medications, surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, hospitalizations, rehabilitation and ultimately end-of-life care—we felt very blessed to be in a position to understand our costs.
Another important decision we made long before JJ’s illness was to get life insurance for both of us. When our children were born, we knew that if something happened to us, we did not want the care of our children, including paying for living expenses and college, to be a burden on the family members who would make a home for them. At the time, life insurance seemed like a necessary obligation, but the thought of ever actually using the insurance during the 20-year life of the policies seemed far-fetched. Now that I have actually gone through the process of filing a claim, I will confess an uneasy relationship to the proceeds; I wish we had JJ instead. But the proceeds let me sleep easier at night without worrying about paying for college or providing for my own medical care or other needs. I also get to honor JJ by continuing to support his favorite causes.
Short- or Long-Term Disability
When we purchased life insurance, our agent told us that statistically we were more likely to experience a disabling condition than death and we would be wise to have disability insurance. Typically disability insurance provides income replacement up to a set percentage of the insured’s pre-condition wages. We said we would think about it, but we never acted on it. I had disability coverage through my employer, and the chances seemed remote that something would happen to JJ. So, what did it mean to be without disability insurance during JJ’s cancer treatment? It’s hard to say exactly. JJ was self-employed, and if he didn’t work, he didn’t get paid. Throughout his treatment, he was constantly trying to feel well enough to get back to work; but the effects of the treatment were so relentless, he never really did. Our household income dropped by half that year. Nevertheless, I am not certain he would have consented to filing disability claims if it would have meant saying that he was not able to work. The idea of being productive and having a job was worth more to his emotional well-being than recovering a portion of his lost income. We were able to stay afloat because I am fully employed. If I had been a part-time or full-time stay-home parent, the loss of income could have been overwhelming.
None of these topics is comfortable in polite conversation, but if our story encourages anyone to shore up their planning, I am happy to share it. In retrospect, many of our most important choices, like selecting the high deductible HSA, were made without much forethought. No one thinks these things will happen to them, and hopefully we will all reach a healthy, ripe old age. That said, I am reminded of the advice JJ’s oncologist gave us on our first visit: Take a couple of weeks to set your affairs in order, then set those worries aside, and turn your attention to living life as fully as possible. I think that is great advice for us all.
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