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When I Left My Computer

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For the past two weeks, I’ve had time away from feeding articles onto the web to walk around New York, look around and talk to people.

People seem to be thinking more about insurance and retirement planning than they were a few years ago. But hazily.

Here’s a little of what I heard and saw.

1. Someone in Brooklyn is buying diabetes test strips.

Wellness and condition management programs are popular. Most of us like the idea of investing pennies in well-focused efforts that could prevent hundreds of dollars in medical bills, and untold misery.

But another, counter argument is that what most of us really want is more cash, and freedom to spend the cash how we want, not free goods and services that other, well-meaning people think we should want.

(Related: Trump Nominees May Reshape EEOC Wellness Incentive Fight)

The diabetes test strip purchasing program could be evidence that, in some parts of Brooklyn, some people with diabetes might have more free and cheap diabetes test strips than they know what to do with and would just as soon have some more cash, thank you very much.

2. The subway is full of insurance ads.

The TV shows I watched seem to be full of ads for medicine and lawyers seeking victims of mesothelioma.

The subways were different: There, the advertiser poster slots all seemed to be full with posters for health insurance plans, and for PolicyGenius, a website consumers can use to buy life insurance, health insurance, long-term disability insurance and other types of coverage.

One health insurance company’s poster showed a to-do list: 1. Buy groceries. 2. Pick up the kids from daycare. 3. Buy health insurance.

The people next to me thought the poster meant the health insurance plan would buy groceries for the insureds and pick up their children from daycare. Those people liked the idea of a health plan doing the enrollees’ shopping and picking their children up from daycare very much.

3. Some older people with what, in theory, is Rolls Royce health coverage have a hard time figuring out what plan they actually have.

The retirees with the very best coverage often have group Medicare coverage from a big corporation.

The remaining jumbo group retiree health plans have been through so much upheaval over the past 20 years that the call center workers can’t even necessarily give longtime enrollees clear answers about which plans the enrollees are in. The enrollees may be grandfathered into an older, otherwise obsolete plan, and the call center workers have trouble knowing about, and distinguishing between, all of the layers of grandfathered plans.

4. People with health savings accounts are noticing that it’s hard to figure out what care will cost.

In the past, I’ve rarely run into people who had HSAs, or knew whether they had HSAs. In the past two weeks, I talked to several people who wondered, vaguely, why it’s hard to know in advance what they’ll really be paying for care.

5. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act may be hardest on people who were serious about investing in the future.

The act seems to be good for people with children who live pretty much paycheck to paycheck, but awful for people who have made serious efforts to plan for the future by investing in residential real estate. Those people seem to be engaged in last-minute efforts to re-package their real estate in some other, less-taxed form.

On the one hand, maybe people with more assets should pay more taxes.

On the other hand, people with hard assets don’t necessarily have more liquid cash than anyone else. Forcing people who have done their best to plan for the future to scramble for cash seems unfair.

On the third: It does seem as if our government has worked very hard to discourage consumers from planning for the future in recent years. Maybe we have a government that likes grasshoppers a lot better than it likes diligent ants, and the ants just have to keep their mouths shut and work even harder to build bigger, better anthills out of the government’s line of sight.

—Read A tragedy That Still Reverberates: Life Insurer Execs Recall 9/11 on ThinkAdvisor.

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