Most financial planning advisers will give you the usual spiel: start saving early to build your retirement nest egg, invest in that blue chip stock or mutual fund, buy an insurance policy. They would rarely ever say, "Go take a brisk walk, and get that pap smear."
Yet, rising health care costs and the epidemic proportions of lifestyle-related major illnesses mean that expensive treatments have the potential to blow through our insurance policies, destroying our life savings and ruining our financial plans. Consider this: cancer treatments in India can cost anywhere from ₹3 lakhs to ₹30 lakhs, depending on the kind of treatment needed and the hospital; organ transplant can cost as much as ₹25 lakhs for liver, and about ₹40 lakhs for a small bowel transplant or lung transplant, points out Mahavir Chopra, director at Coverfox.com, an online insurance broker.
That's why investing both time and money in 'preventive health' measures is becoming increasingly important. Here are some things that should be on your financial planning to-do list.
Regular health check-ups
'Preventive health' requires planning and effort, even when you are perfectly healthy and don't have an illness. An early diagnosis of risk factors for major illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and even cancer, can help prevent their onset, and drastically reduce treatment costs if caught in early stages. Even less serious illnesses can be a strain on your pocket. For example, a bi-annual visit to a dentist or dental hygienist would cost you only about ₹1,500 but can help prevent tooth decay and expensive dental surgeries that could run into thousands of rupees.
Even a simple assessment of your levels of stress followed by an investment in time and money in stress management can nudge you into making lifestyle changes that can prevent diseases. Numerous studies show that stress is among the leading cause of chronic, debilitating illnesses that can cost you dearly.
If you don't have a health insurance cover, get one. If a person is covered by health insurance from the age of 30 to 70 years, they will end up spending around ₹6 lakhs to ₹8 lakhs on health insurance. In contrast, on an average, without applying any financial math, if a person is hospitalised even thrice with serious conditions in those 40 years, they can potentially need anywhere from ₹10 Lakhs to ₹20 Lakhs, notes Chopra. Depending on your individual risk level, you can also buy dedicated critical illnesses covers that pay for critical illnesses that aren't covered by ordinary insurance policies.
But just buying health insurance isn't enough. Look for plans that offer benefits on preventive health check-ups and benefits. You can also save money on health insurance premiums as some policies have begun offering incentives to customers that make healthy lifestyle changes using health tracking apps and tools, points out Chopra. An entire new field of study called 'telematics,' which deals with gathering data and tracking healthy behaviour of individuals using wearable tech, is what experts say is how health insurance companies will assess risk and determine insurance premiums in the near future.
You can also claim tax benefits of up to ₹5,000 on preventive health expenses under Section 80D of the personal income tax code.
Buy that pollution mask
If you live in Delhi or any other major city in India with worsening air quality, don't wait for the government to do something about it.
India's record pollution, which is linked to life-threatening respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer, is a public health crisis that's sadly getting very little attention from our politicians. Air pollution alone was responsible for some 1.1 million premature deaths in 2015. Given the already high health care costs, an air pollution mask, in comparison, is much cheaper (between Rs 100 and Rs 3,000). and can help block tiny disease-causing particles. Even water filters can go a long way in reducing the risk of disease-causing pathogens.
If you have an addiction, seeking timely counselling can help devise strategies to make important healthy choices and get treatment. Mental health is as important for physical health, if not more. For example, studies show that depression is as important a risk factor for heart disease, just as smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Depression treatment can also help prevent other illnesses.
Gym, fitness and other healthy habits
The benefits of exercise and healthy habits such as right eating are way too many to list in this article. But it merits repeating that exercise is probably one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent lifestyle-related illnesses. Take time out of your routine for fitness. Work in a less demanding job if that means more time for a healthy and balanced lifestyle. The extra money you would make with a promotion could come with a stressful lifestyle that may eventually exact a financial and mental toll, and far exceed any monetary benefits of the job. Always weigh the "opportunity costs" of a new job, especially one that is likely to make you time-poor in the long run.