Analysis: Planning for a personal health crisis



Kim Inglis, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:18 PM ET

Pondering the possibility of a personal health crisis is not easy and despite the growing prevalence of debilitating illnesses and other disabling events, many people put it on the backburner.

However, when the unexpected happens, the immediate financial impact can be devastating and negative effects on longer-range plans such as retirement are a real possibility.

The Sun Life Canadian Health Index found 28% of Canadians have already experienced a serious health event or accident, and 39% of them said it triggered a significant lifestyle change. The report also found that, while 82% of Canadians realize a bad turn of health could negatively impact their personal finances, only 13% have money set aside for unforeseen health care costs.

A report by the BMO Wealth Institute supports those findings and says 84% of Canadians believe they would face a major financial hit in the event of disability. Of those who have tapped their rainy day funds to pay for unexpected health expenses, 58% couldn't cover the full cost.

Given those figures, it is not surprising 53% of Canadians, aged 45 to 54, are struggling financially after a major health incident. They have been turning to credit cards or personal lines of credit, personal savings, borrowing from loved ones, and remortgaging or selling their homes.

Preparation for any unexpected problem period begins with accumulating sufficient savings to cover short-term needs such as child care, elder care and mortgage or interest payments. The common rule of thumb is to have the equivalent of three to six months' income but, with a quarter of Canadians living paycheque to paycheque, some see it as a pipe dream.

However daunting the figure may seem, it must be tackled and should be more achievable if tough decisions are made, such as cutting non-essential items. Just forgoing a daily latte can add more than $1,800 per year. A review of expenses such as cellphone or cable fees may find more.

An automatic savings plan is also useful. Opting for automatic transfers of a set dollar amount or percentage of income to a separate rainy day fund lowers the temptation to spend. Any unexpected windfall or tax refunds should go to savings.

Such savings, while important, still only provide a short-term solution. Actuaries estimate that an individual, who saved 5% of their income for 10 years, would run out of money after only six months of total disability. Clearly, self-insuring is not the best approach to the possibility of a long-range problem.

For financial protection in the event of a longer-term issue, Canadians should consider insurance in their planning.

Kim Inglis, CIM, PFP, FCSI, AIFP is an investment adviser and portfolio manager with Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management, a division of Canaccord Genuity Corp., Member – Canadian Investor Protection Fund. The views in this column are solely those of the author.