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Hard Decisions

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If your family is anything like mine, then you have exactly zero spare time, between work, school, after-school activities and trying to keep the house clean. This is something my daughter is feeling pointedly as she has just entered the sixth grade, and has a much-increased workload. When the school had its annual open house, it had the parents go through a miniature version of a full school day, following their kids’ class schedule, hustling to each classroom for an eight-minute introduction by the teachers before the bell rang and it was off to another class. It was a brilliant way to get parents to understand that their kids really were being expected to do a lot more this year, a point understood by the many adults who had a heck of a time getting to their next class on time, and who took a “better them than us” approach when confronted with the homework levels.

As I’ve noted in previous columns, my entire family has been training in mixed martial arts for over a year and a half now, and it is something we have really committed to. Even though my wife and I train apart from our kids, and we have different belt progressions, last month we had the rare treat of all of us advancing to purple belt simultaneously, which in martial arts is a bit like the planets coming into alignment. It was a special moment for us all, and one to celebrate. But it also was the result of a lot of hard work and dedication, putting aside other things so we could focus on our training, which for us is not merely learning how to fight, but reaching peak fitness, developing fortitude of mind and spirit, and doing something in which we can all share. For my kids, this has gone one step further, as their dedication on the mat has earned them a spot on our school’s demonstration team, which is a bit like the equivalent of making varsity.

Sixth grader

I bring this up because my daughter has, for the last few years, been on the township’s traveling basketball team, something which also requires no small amount of time. Tonight, she will go to tryouts to see if there is a place for her on this year’s team. Unfortunately for her, interest in the team is so low that there is a very good chance there will not be any team at all. But if there is, and if she is accepted, then she will have a hard choice to make. There is simply not enough time for her to do martial arts, basketball and keep on top of her school work. She knows it, too, and as I tucked her into bed last night, tears came to her eyes. “I’ve read about this in books, where somebody has a really hard decision to make,” she told me, referring to a common theme in young adult literature these days. “I just never thought I would have to make this kind of decision myself.”

Poor sweetpea. I gave her a hug and told her we’d figure something out, but I know that chances are, basketball is out this year. I feel for my daughter because she’s learning the hard way that life is a series of hard decisions. Some of them, we have the luxury of deciding on our own terms. Some of them, the terms are decided for us.

As I thought of my daughter, I thought of how cost and a poor economy has been blamed by many as a central reason for why individual life insurance ownership is so low. For many, life insurance is seen as a nice-to-have, best affordable in fat times. The reality, however, is that in lean times is when we need this kind of insurance most. A billboard I pass on the way to work each day reads, “You shouldn’t put off life insurance.” Perhaps the better message might be: “You can afford life insurance. You just don’t think you can.” It is amazing what people can afford when they really are motivated, and right now, folks just aren’t as motivated to insure their lives as they ought to be. As much as this makes me feel bad for the industry, I feel much worse for the legion of people out there who are living at risk without a proven safety net to give their family the backstop everybody needs, especially in times like these.

I also thought of how the individual mandate of healthcare reform takes from one’s hands the ability to decide to do without coverage, and instead forces them to find something else to do without, if they cannot afford health insurance on top of whatever else is in their hand-to-mouth existence. Healthcare reform has been attacked on all sides by different parties and for a number of reasons. On the individual mandate, the Constitutionality argument appears to be on the verge of being decided once and for all. If I had to make a call on it, I’d say that the Supreme Court will find in favor of the administration, since the Court rarely overturns that which has been passed in Congress, and the swing vote on the panel, Justice Roberts, appears to support the individual mandate’s Constitutionality. Regardless, the individual mandate is the flashpoint for opposition to healthcare, and you would think that the insurance industry would be the first to champion such a requirement. After all, it’s not every day that the government hands your industry another 36 million customers. But for all of the expanded access of healthcare, the costs of healthcare itself still go unaddressed, pushing that problem down the line. Ours is a nation that is largely overweight and obese, with climbing rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, much of which is the result of nobody being willing to make the hard decision to stay healthy, and instead have allowed for the health insurance industry itself to make the hard decision of how to afford for limitless coverage for a population seemingly uninterested in personal risk management.

On the under-use of life insurance, and the over-use of health insurance, something will have to give. A hard decision will have to be made by all who partake of these systems in order to make sure that the best results are gained for the largest amount of people. As with my daughter, we could put off deciding about basketball until we get into a situation where her studies and all activities suffer, by which time the damage will already have been done. Or we could be realistic about it, deal with the tears and help her make a hard decision today. If only we as a society could do the same with life and health. If only.