Medical Bills: You Are Not Alone
Mark woke up beside his wife feeling relief and joy just to have another day with her. After her recent health scare and one month stay in the hospital, he was happy it was all over. However, he did not know how to tell her how badly her medical bills had affected their finances. He knew she felt lucky that they had insurance, and that she believed everything had been covered except for the small deductible. Mark wondered how it was possible that he could be feeling such joy and sorrow at the same time. Joy that his wife was back home with their family, and sorrow that they might have to declare bankruptcy.
Mark and his wife are not alone. A 2015 poll by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that 26% of respondents claimed that their household’s bottom line was severely damaged by medical bills. Additionally, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports that the most common reason for a person to be contacted by a collection agency is medical bills.
If you are in the same position as Mark and his wife, you might be starting to think that the future looks bleak. However, we at Value Based Patient Advocates are here to help you understand and alleviate the financial burden that a medical crisis can create.
Insurance Is Not Enough
Like Mark’s wife, many people assume that they won’t have to worry about high medical expenses when they face hospitalization or require expensive medical procedures. While this assumption may have been true years ago, it is no longer the case due to rising healthcare costs. Not only have premiums increased in recent years, but deductibles, co-insurance rates, and out-of-pocket maximums have also skyrocketed.
According to eHealthInsurance, the average deductible in 2016 was around $5000 for an individual and $8000 for families. These figures don’t even include the co-insurance amounts that you must pay in addition to the deductible, and can easily reach into the thousands for more expensive procedures. Despite out-of-pocket maximums that cap the total amount of medical expenses you pay every year, the deductible and co-insurance amounts can quickly become overwhelming.
Additionally, many insurance plans have also switched from covering a portion of out-of-network care, to refusing to cover anything that is not in-network. This means that if you require a specialist who is not in your insurance provider’s network, you should expect to pay 100% of your medical costs.
The Hidden Costs of a Medical Crisis
Even if you are expecting to pay a hefty medical bill, there is also a hidden cost unrelated to the cost of the medical procedures. Many people do not consider the little miscellaneous expenses that add up over time and have a very real impact on finances.
For example, take a family where an adult is ill for an extended period. Especially if the main breadwinner is ill, the loss of income will drastically affect the family’s finances. Even if the sick family member does not provide income, any time away from work to provide care and assistance will still affect finances. Childcare also impacts a family’s finances. Since hospitals do not allow children to stay with their hospitalized parents or siblings, a family will need to find someone to take care of the children while one parent is caring for the other. Hospitalization leads to a change in lifestyle which incurs additional expenses, like ordering more take-out, increased transportation costs, and parking fees.
Sometimes while taking care of their sick loved ones, parents and spouses will stop taking care of themselves. That stress can lead to the caregiver suffering health problems, like anxiety and high blood pressure, and even requiring temporary hospitalization themselves. This adds to the piling medical bills, which only compounds the problem and creates a vicious cycle.
So What Can You Do?
If you are already inundated with medical expenses, both those directly related to healthcare and also the ancillary costs, reach out to those who can help!
1. Don’t be afraid to tell your family and friends that you need help.
Medical crises are scary and uncertain and are never the time to stand alone. If you have a community who wants to support you, reach out. Let them bring you meals, watch your kids, or help you clean the house and run errands. Set up a YouCaring or GoFundMe campaign to help cover some or all of the medical expenses. It may be intimidating and humbling to ask your friends and family for help, but you may be surprised by how many people around you will gladly help if you just ask.
2. Contact organizations that help pay expenses.
There are many non-profit foundations that exist to help those in need with their medical bills and related expenses. For example, The Patient Access Network helps patients cover out-of-pocket costs for the treatment of dozens of rare and life-threatening diseases. The Ronald McDonald Houses provide housing for families with children in severe medical situations. Each organization has its own restrictions and qualifications, so you will need to do your research before applying for assistance.
Part of a patient advocate’s job description is to help you navigate your medical expenses. Here at Values Based Patient Advocates, we want to help you figure out the best way to pay off your medical bills, so please contact us if you need help.