Friday, June 22, 2007

How to Deal with Finances During a Health Crisis

Blog-friend The Travelin' Man has asked a number of people to start a wave of information on how to think about finances when you may be faced with a serious illness, as he is right now. Boy, is that a tough question to deal with, and one I felt quite unprepared to face. But as usual, my first impulse was to look for books with answers. One that might help is Aftershock: What to Do When the Doctor Gives You-- or Someone You Love-- a Devastating Diagnosis, by Jessie Gruman.
For many people , money might be the last thing on their mind if they are suddenly faced with a life-threatening diagnosis. But finances are something you should think about, and a chapter in this book is devoted to money issues.
In Chapter 8: Pay for Care, the author tells you what you need to know right away when you've received a serious diagnosis, for example:

  • What doctors and health-care facilities specialize in your illness
  • What your insurance co-pay and deductible are for in-network and out-of-network providers
  • How much it will cost you if the specialist of your choice doesn't take your insurance
  • What kind of pre-approval or notification does your insurance require to make sure services are covered
There are lots of other tips and reminders of questions to ask of your doctors and insurance provider. Then there's also a section called "Taking Care of Business," which begins
Whether or not you have health insurance, this diagnosis is likely to pose a threat-- the size of which is as yet unknown-- to your financial stability.
The chapter includes the following advice:
  • If you think there may be times when you are not going to be functioning well enough to take care of routine matters, make a list of bills and payments that will need to be made-- things like regular utility bills, but also things that might only come up infrequently, like life, auto, or property insurance. If you are going to be treated for your illness somewhere away from home, make sure to arrange for your mail to be forwarded.
  • Be prepared to try to negotiate your doctor bills, hospital bills and even credit card bills. If you aren't comfortable doing it yourself, or think you might be too sick to, ask for help from a friend, family member, or financial professional.
  • Ask if the doctor or hospital offers interest-free installment payment plans.
  • Check the fine print on your auto loan, mortgage, and credit cards to see if they came with any kind of disability insurance. Often people have this coverage and are not aware of it.
  • Look into nonprofit organizations that help people facing a devastating illness by assisting with financial matters, applying for Medicaid and Social Security, negotiating medical fees, etc. (The book has an appendix with information on these organizations.)
  • Make sure your legal documents are in order: will, medical power of attorney, health-care proxy, and an advance directive.
I thought these closing words in the chapter summed things up well:
Taking care of this business is hard. You are forced to imagine your death and its impact on your friends and family. But as painful as it is to think about this and take these actions, these legal protections are acts of generosity. They lift the burden of difficult decisions from those you love.
Act now.

These suggestions are just a beginning. What would you do? Please share your suggestions and stories here so others can benefit. I know several other bloggers may also be posting about this topic, and I'll update this post with links to the discussion there too:
Get Rich Slowly: JD has shared Travelin' Man's own specific questions about his financial situation and decision-making.
Blogging My Way Out of Debt has shared her own story of facing cancer surgery without insurance.

As I've mentioned before, any ad proceeds from this site are donated to various charities. I am a bit backlogged on actually making my donations, so any ad income earned from March 2007 through the end of July will be donated to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Thank you to Travelin' Man for inspiring this post.

7 comments:

M said...

I have a chronic illness, so my situation may be somewhat different from your friend's situation. But, in response to your post, I wrote up a little advice guide to share what I've learned in the past two years of dealing with a life-altering illness.

It's not focused on the financial aspect alone, but does include that realm as well. Please take a look at my post from 6/22/07 on cottoncandypink.blogspot.com. I hope it will help your friend as well as others facing a similar situation.

Angie Hartford said...

Having dealt with a family member's mysterious medical condition for years, I'm full of suggestions. The first is the most important:

Never, ever delegate all your authority to someone else.

We quickly learned that we had to be active partners in our case management, to research the condition, suggest tests, even examine medications in the hospital so we could be sure of getting the right ones (always know what your meds look like!).

Don't feel like you have to please your doctor, mother, child, nurse on issues about your own health. We ended up supplementing traditional healthcare with alternative, and receive a certain amount of backlash.

Remember outcome-based medicine. If it's not working, don't keep doing it. If it does work, don't question it or apologize for it, even if it's a goofy-seeming way of getting results.

Write up a living will and healthcare power of attorney. Immediately. Be sure your healthcare proxy is on the same page that you are. Consider a regular power of attorney, too (they can be limited).

On a very practical note: hospitals are full of nasty, nasty germs. The best gift you can bring someone is the hospital is pump-style sanitizing gel and sanitizing wipes. Wipe down everything from the phone to the bed rails to the TV remote. After we return from the ER, or the hospital during flu/rotovirus season, everything we've worn into the building goes into the wash. Purses are wiped down with sanitizing gel (you didn't put it on the FLOOR, did you?).

The Travelin' Man said...

Madame X - Thanks for highlighting this story. I think it is important for people in my (this/similar) situation to have additional information about their personal finances. In times when there is so much else to worry about, I don't want to rely on the idea that "the money will work itself out."

To all who have left advice, or stopped by my own blog and sent well-wishes, I also offer my thanks. It is amazing the outpouring of support from people who you don't even know when times are tough.

I will have an update posted within the next day or so as to the next course of action. Disappointingly, my Thursday procedure did not settle much for me. My update will include my own pledge to follow your lead and donate the money (what little there is) from my blogging to a cancer-based charity(ies). Perhaps others will follow that lead, as well.

M said...

I am just now coming to terms with what my terminal illness really means to my family. I was diagnosed 4 years ago now, and have continued to work, and provide for my family. suddenly right around Memorial day, that all ended. Now my family does not know what to do,and neither do I. My disability insurance has not kicked in, as usual with insurance companies. Leaving me with only one option, sell my home. I have to sell my home because I am sick, oh my god how cruel to make me homeless in my last days.

M said...

am just now coming to terms with what my terminal illness really means to my family. I was diagnosed 4 years ago now, and have continued to work, and provide for my family. suddenly right around Memorial day, that all ended. Now my family does not know what to do,and neither do I. My disability insurance has not kicked in, as usual with insurance companies. Leaving me with only one option, sell my home. I have to sell my home because I am sick, oh my god how cruel to make me homeless in my last days.

Anonymous said...

Please don't give to memorial sloan-kettering cancer center.

I worked there. They set up monies from patients who are going to die and get them to give their cancer cash when they die - before treatment!!!! Talk about cruel. They are scumbags. St Vincents is wonderful and has a great cancer center, as do other hospitals. MSKCC just wants money

Jerry said...

That's pretty depressing about sloan kettering. Checking in on your insurance policies is really a good idea. Leaving loose ends leads to confusion and a lot of work for those around you.

Jerry
www.leads4insurance.com