Magazine article Medical Economics

My "401(H) Plan" Helps Save Patients for Retirement

Magazine article Medical Economics

My "401(H) Plan" Helps Save Patients for Retirement

Article excerpt

Getting patients to change unhealthy behavior is one of a physician's hardest jobs. I've never found the traditional "change or die' message very effective. But my 401 plan, as I call it, has actually persuaded a third of the patients who've heard its message to kick their bad habits.

Most Americans are familiar with the concept of saving money for retirement. Unless they plan to win the lottery or were born with wealthy relatives, they're aware that financial security depends on making sacrifices now for a benefit later.

My 401(h) applies the concept of a 401(k) to personal health. When a patient needs to make some lifestyle changes, I invite him to my office for a discussion, asking the usual questions about family and work. Then I start my pitch: "Mr. Smith, does your company have a 401(k) plan? Do you contribute? Why?"

"To save for retirement," the response usually goes.

I point out that enjoyment of the golden years depends on more than dollars and cents. Mr. Smith will need good health, too. Every investment in good health now can eliminate a withdrawal from his retirement fund later to cover the costs of illness.

As with a 401(k), I explain, where money is set aside from the patient's paycheck and he must adjust to living with a lower take-home net, contributing to a 4010) may take some getting used to. A 401(h) requires him to opt for grilled chicken and pasta over steak and fries. But encouragement to continue comes in the form of quarterly "statements"--the results of regular blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight checks.

Like the savings in a 401(k), I continue, the improvements registered in a 401(h) plan grow slowly at first. I urge the patient not to be discouraged by stasis in blood pressure and cholesterol levels in the early months. "Hang in there until you see noticeable drops,' tell him. …

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