Boomers, Non-Profits & Healthcare

DATE: November 1, 2016
TO: Senators Al Franken & Amy Klobuchar

This past Thursday evening my wife and I attended a talk by someone you undoubtedy know well, Chris Farrell, author and contributor to American Public Media's Marketplace. His talk was entitled, "Unretirement with Chris Farrell" and the theme of it mirrored his book on the economics of an aging workforce: "Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community and the Good Life."

One of his key messages was the trend in retirees to staying engaged (and why we are) but there was an elephant in the room that made it very hard for my wife and I to stay focused on Chris' optimistic message, which included a strong theme about entrepreneurship.

What was the elephant? Our own near-term healthcare insurance costs as well as what we're now anticipating will be incredibly expensive supplemental insurance we'll require when we retire. The trend-lines are NOT good for either.

As self-employed and long time entrepreneurs, my wife and I are purposefully downtrending our business as we approach "the third half" of life. She is 62 and I'll be 61 in December. What we did NOT expect, nor budget for, was the explosion in cost of healthcare insurance which—because of new premiums for we individual 5%'ers in 2017, preventive visits and prescriptions—will approach an out-of-pocket expenditure of between $32-$34,000 in 2017! That means our businesses must gross roughly $60k to pay corporate and personal taxes in order to net that amount just for the two of us and our U of MN senior son.

I brought this up to Chris as a question at his talk and I was startled by the number of people (mostly 55+ folks like us in the audience) who exclaimed, "Yes! Healthcare insurance is THE issue." We talked about this insurance at length but there was a collective shoulder-shrug by Chris and all of us, that it was unlikely any resolution could come out of any of us not directly involved in public policy. Instead something needs to happen at the state and federal levels if those in a position of power had any enthusiasm about this idea.

I'd like to run an idea by you that is likely to unleash baby boomer time, energy, effort and need for purpose and being social by providing healthcare insurance (and after retirement, supplemental and maybe even long-term care insurance) in exchange for their investment of that time, energy and effort in an "approved" non-profit.

Every boomer I've talked to about this (and yes, I've done so ad nauseam at family gatherings as well as at dinner and cocktail parties) and every single person instantly sees the possibilities and would "sign up in a heartbeat for that" as one family friend told me just two months ago.

For some time I've been working with several MN non-profits with their websites and online initiatives. As such I've become connected to many leaders in the non-profit space and have run this idea by many of them. While it resonates with them and they also instantly see the possibilities, none have any idea of how it would be funded.

There could likely be concerns amongst non-profits about how a sudden influx of highly qualified boomers—most of whom would trade "X" number of hours per week of work for healthcare insurance—might depress the growth in non-profit wages that finally seem to be approaching parity with for-profit organizations. (see Minnesota Nonprofit Economy Report 2014 (PDF)).

Still it seems like something worthy of more study.

That brings me to "the ask" of this letter: What would be the possibility of forming a task-force in Minnesota to perform a serious examination of this possibility of offering healthcare in exchange for hours worked for a non-profit? Or adding this initiative to the health care financing task force already in existence?

Since Minnesota taxes Social Security (which I continue to find dumbfounding, by the way) it would be key to not add an additional tax burden by taxing seniors on this benefit.

Thanks for reading this high-level idea letter. Let me know via email or my contact form if there is any interest and/or if I can do anything to help move-the-needle on it.