This week’s agreement between UPMC and Highmark was extremely important to all people in Western Pennsylvania. It was a long time coming and the conflict should have never happened. Often, court cases are settled on courthouse steps, and this is what happened. The people won this time.

While this is important, it does not solve all issues about the cost of health care. This outcome only addresses access.

Health-care costs are the main reason a couple in their early 60s may not be able to retire. If they are not old enough to receive Medicare, monthly premiums can be more than $500 per month.

Medicare is a program that workers pay into their entire working lives. Upon starting Medicare, they often must pay for a supplement to cover costs that Medicare does not cover. There have been suggestions that everyone should be able to receive Medicare. That is not a financial possibility, because the Medicare trust fund is already strained with all of the baby boomers entering the system. When you hear Medicare for all, it is just a softer sounding way to say national health care.

Government actions can have a big impact on our financial lives. We are seeing this now with the tariffs being applied to Chinese imports. China has not always been fair in its trade deals with the United States. That nation has infringed on many of our patents, subsidized industries to gain an unfair trade balance and limited access to American goods to many of their consumers.

Will the tariff war work? Time will tell. It could be brilliant or it could lead to a recession. Prices will go up and company profits will be hurt. Usually, free trade is preferable. Make sure your investments account for this increased risk.

There has been a lot of discussion about whether the Federal Reserve should lower interest rates. If it did, the stock market would go up. It is important to remember, however, two important jobs the Fed has: to stimulate the economy when it is slow and slow it down when it is overheating.

The Fed is not responsible for supporting the stock market. The economy certainly has some issues and some strength. On the plus side, the unemployment rate is at a 50-year low and inflation has been low. Negatively, the deficit is growing, retirement savings are low, we have a reverse yield curve and there is gridlock in Washington.

Morgan Stanley and UBS said recently the Fed should not lower interest rates. I agree with them. If the Fed starts trying to micromanage everything, it will not have the tools necessary to deal with its mission when there is a crisis.

The stock market has a rate reduction priced into it at this time. If rates do not go down, there will be some increased volatility. We need to get interest rates back to a more normal level. Lower interest rates have been the No. 1 driver of this bull market, and there will be a correction someday. Make sure your financial plan is ready for whatever happens.

Gary Boatman is a Monessen-based certified financial planner and the author of “Your Financial Compass: Safe passage through the turbulent waters of taxes, income planning and market volatility.”

To submit columns on financial planning or investing, email Rick Shrum at

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