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The La-La Landers

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I was particularly struck by a couple of paragraphs in Kateryna Sapronovas story that appears on page 12 of this weeks issue regarding disability insurance.

She writes: “When asked, most employees underestimate their chances of becoming disabled during the course of their career. That may help explain why employees tend to place less value on disability benefits.

“Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that a substantial number of workers are not even aware they are covered under an employer-sponsored group plan. It is, in effect, an invisible benefit.”

I find the final comment about the coverage being an invisible benefit absolutely fascinating, but not terribly surprising. Fascinating because in this age of employers cutting back on benefits left and right and forcing employees to pick up more and more of the cost of those benefits that do remain, it is wondrous that people should be unaware of the coverage they are lucky enough to have. Especially so vital a benefit as the continuation of a paycheck in the event of a disability.

But its not surprising because it showsonce again!how comfortable the American public is in la-la land. “What, me get disabled? Never happen.” This is an extension of the same thread that proclaims: “What, me end up in a nursing home? Never happen.” Or, “What, if I dont save now Ill end up living on Social Security? Never happen.” Or, “What, sock dollars I dont have into a life insurance policy because I might drop dead at the age of 43? Never happen.” Or, “What, a mortgage that consumes well over 30% of my income is a disaster waiting to happen? Never happen.”

Somehow, all these things that do happen (every day), but to other people, wont happen to them. Go figure.

If youre feeling at this point that I have less than complete confidence in the willingness of a majority of Americans to take control of the financial rudders of their lives, youre getting warm. Where, I wonder, do all those people who do have this confidence find the justification for it?

Remember, these la-la landers who dont even know they have disability coverage are the same people who are supposed to be eminently qualified to self-direct their privatized accounts in what is being touted as Social Security for the 21st century.

These la-las are the same people who somehow will be eminently qualified to expatiate on the differences between health savings accounts, health reimbursement accounts and plain old high deductible health plans. Not to mention meticulously comparing one physicians medical history with anothers so they can astutely judge which one is better qualified to treat them and therefore receive the health care dollars they are now also charged with dispensing based on their suddenly magical expertise in medicine.

My goodness, a huge swath of the population still believes Medicare will pay for a nursing home in the highly unlikely event that either they or someone close to them ever needs to be admitted.

Such widespread, willful denial leads inexorably to one conclusion: namely, the la-las dont want to take responsibility for the really important financial decisions in their lives. Why? As Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Let me count the ways”

The old easy fallback is that education will do the trick. I still believe that to a degree. But, come on, do you really need to be educated in order to know you have disability coverage?

More and more Im beginning to see the wisdom of what Granny used to say: “A swift kick might do the trick.”

Steve Piontek


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, March 4, 2005. Copyright 2005 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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