Just Watching – August 2017

As I wind my way down the road to an eighty-ninth birthday two things are on my mind that I can’t shake:

A Lot of Actuarial Stuff and Psalm 31:14, 15

For starters, an Actuary is a professional who measures and manages risk and uncertainty. She/he applies mathematical calculations, analytical skills, business acumen and a studied view of human behavior in order to design programs that control risk.

What they do is at the heart of insurance offerings, pension plans, IRA projections and (as I have lately come to understand) admission to many senior-living facilities. That’s where Audie and I developed a fascination for Actuaries and for actuarial tables.

Before I toddle on with talking about actuarial matters let me turn to a second and related item: Psalm 31:14ff with a somewhat different take on dealing with risk. One translation of the Psalm reads, “But I trust in Thee, O Lord. I say, ‘Thou art my God.’ My times are in your hands…” Those words are similar to those of Psalm 139:16 and to a lot of other Biblical references about how life is not so much shaped by predictable mathematical projections as by the unpredictable and loving mind of God. With that, let’s get back to the actuarial world.

For some time Audie and I have been looking into our long-term housing needs. There is a wide range of choices related to gender, age, marital status, physical condition, mental stability and financial circumstance. Those are all qualifying criteria for admission into senior housing.

We found that those who interview prospective residents are gracious and caring people anxious to help others find a happy home. They wanted applicants to qualify for admission but as employees they tended the interests of the managing organization as well as that of those who had qualified, made a significant financial commitment and were now residents. With few exceptions long term residents for seniors are not eleemosynary institutions.

As we surveyed retirement facilities near us we came upon one we liked and decided to see if we qualified for admission. We are healthy for our age, seemed to be of a sound mind to the lady who interviewed us, were married (and intend to stay that way), of near identical age and had enough assets plus our future income from Social Security and various pensions to make us look like prospective clients. All that data was turned into actuarial grist to be ground in a computerized actuarial mill. The results were not long in returning.

Too bad. Based on the actuarial marital-gender-age-health-financial facts Audie and I submitted we did not qualify for admission. The result had nothing to do with us as Audie and Charlie. It was just how actuarial data and the statistical averages sometime work.

We weren’t upset. Facts are the facts as our interviewer using a graph that showed me as one line of costs and Audie as another scored against our anticipated income and expenses over the coming years. It went like this:

Though the male graph line (me) was a few months younger than the female (Audie) and moved at differing speeds. The male line (me) was actuarially projected to physically falter a few years into the future but about a year sooner than the female line (Audie). When that happened the male line (me) would be transferred to the next higher level of institutional care – at a projectable increased per diem cost. The female line (Audie) would actuarially follow the pattern of the male line (me) a tad over a year later.

For about the next three years my graph line and Audie’s stay at that same actuarial level until the male line (me) upgrade (or maybe downgrades?) to full time nursing care – at a significant additional cost, of course. The other line (Audie) was projected to follow me some time later but that wouldn’t make any difference. Soon after my line graduated to nursing care the Mueller financial well actuarially goes dry.

Please don’t think I am making light of what we experienced of our time with those who build and maintain senior residences. What they are committed to is making actuarial sense.

But as I think about my/our future I recognize that trumping and superseding the actuarial views of life are Bible – like the fickle finger of fate decried in Daniel 5:1-20; or, like Luke 12:15-21’s rich man who said to himself, “…you have ample goods laid up for many years, take your ease, eat, drink and be merry”, to whom God responded, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you…whose will these things then be?”; and especially like the life story inherent in Psalm 23.

We should not make light of or ignore actuarial factors in life. They are often very good guidance.  But they are not the last word about our life.  Our Father has that.  He who numbers our days, actuarial tables to the contrary notwithstanding.

Now I wonder what He has in mind for Audie and for me from here on.  Or, maybe you?