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Asking Clients the Right Healthcare Questions

Asking Clients the Right Healthcare Questions

Many advisors don’t know where to start when it comes to discussing healthcare planning with their clients. It’s all just a matter of asking the right questions.

During her presentation at IMCA’s Advanced Wealth Management Conference in Chicago, Carolyn McClanahan of Life Planning Partners, Inc., laid out four easy questions that advisors can ask their clients to help kick-start the healthcare planning conversation and begin to ascertain a client’s personal health history.

"Clients are looking for someone to solve their problems," McClanahan said. "And the No. 1 problem on people’s minds is healthcare. … Health permeates all aspects of a financial plan.”

The first, and most important, question, according to McClanahan, is intended to get things started. It's the only healthcare-related question that should be broached in an initial client meeting.

It’s simply: “Tell me what you do to take care of your health.”

McClanahan stresses the importance of keeping healthcare questions open ended and listening to the client’s answers. Once you get them talking, they will often give you a fairly comprehensive overview of their health situation, both through what they talk about and what they avoid.

There will inevitably be some blanks to fill, which is where things can get a bit uncomfortable for many advisors. It can be difficult to ask a client about their weight for instance, but McClanahan reveals that you only really need to inquire about height and weight if a client is visibly overweight. For insurance purposes, she notes that premiums only begin to increase once Body Mass Index hits 28, which is a fairly high hurdle.

Tobacco, alcohol and drug habits can also be delicate topics, but savvy advisors may be able to discern this information without ever asking the client directly. Many advisors make use of software, like eMoney, which tracks client expenditures. Advisors can learn a great deal about a client’s overall lifestyle, and his habits, from simply watching the receipts roll in.

Ultimately, advisors will have to ask clients more direct questions about their health. However, they don't have to resemble the same sort of medical history that clients would fill out at a doctor’s office. Instead, McClanahan offers three more essential questions to goose the conversation:

  1. “Have you seen a doctor in the last two years?” This inquiry is intended to gather information both about the client’s general medical habits (does he gets regular checkups) and to reveal any chronic issues.
  2. “Have you ever spent a night in the hospital (not for childbirth)?” Often, even when you’ve already initiated a discussion of healthcare issues, clients will leave past problems out because they think they’re better now. McClanahan uses this question to catch any of these unmentioned past major issues so that she can determine herself just how important they are.
  3. “What medications have you ever had to take regularly (not antibiotics)?” This question covers the area of chronic issues, once again, but it also touches on an area that still has a stigma attached—depression. Many people have been prescribed antidepressants, but McClanahan insists that it’s important to inquire as to the reason why. She notes that many who are prescribed these drugs aren’t actually depressed but are instead suffering from a reaction to an outside stimulus, like grief after the death of a loved one. Many doctors don’t feel like filling out the complicated paperwork to note a grief response, so they just write it down as depression. This differentiation may seem trivial, but it’s important for insurance purposes, as a depression diagnosis will likely increase premiums, but being prescribed medication for a grief response, likely won’t.

There’s a great deal of room for advisors to save their clients money in the healthcare and insurance planning space. McClanahan urges advisors to “quit planning for who we want our clients to be; plan for who they are.”

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