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How to Manage the Financial Burden of Medical Bills

Managing Finances can be Overly Stressful


Feb 2015


The financial burden of medical bills can quickly become overwhelming for many patients who are suffering from a chronic illness.  This is not only related to the cost of treatment and medications, but is also due to the fact that the expense is ongoing.  When this is combined with the higher costs of many specialty treatments, it can easily become a situation where bills continue to mount, and even with regular payments, the debt continues to accrue.

One of the greatest challenges within the healthcare system is the access and affordability of care.  Although access has initially meant making treatment available to patients in a very tangible manner, it has also come to mean offering access by way of fiscal viability.  A considerable reason that patients with any type of illness do not follow treatment protocols is due to the prohibitive cost if care and therapy.

This poses a number of issues for population wellness.  While many chronic and progressive illnesses are physical in nature, others concern psychological health, and proper treatment in these cases can be the difference between functionality and cognitive deterioration.  Although every patient does have the right to make choices about their own welfare and treatment, it is still important that this remains a choice rather than an imposition.  The high cost of many treatment modes has caused a number of patients to feel as though they are unable to take responsible action for their own health.

Addressing Financial Concerns

Health insurance can play a role in managing bills, although many patients with chronic conditions find that this is still not sufficient for reigning in costs.  Coverage of therapy and medications can vary based on the provider, and certain accepted and viable therapies may still not be considered vital for health by the insurance provider.  This often leaves patients with the dilemma of needing to opt for therapeutic measures that are not optimal.

Further concern arises from the fact that even with insurance coverage, not all of the treatment or medication is actually included.  For treatments such as cancer medications, co-pays can still be in the range of thousands of dollars.  This can rapidly build over a period of time, and is often a reason that patients will discontinue treatment.

Planning for Possibilities

One of the best tasks that patients and their loved ones can undertake is formulating a viable plan for healthcare costs.  This can include talking with physicians and researching what the full cost of treatment will come to annually.

Bills that should be considered include:

  • Lab tests
  • Imaging
  • Visits to the clinic
  • Medications
  • Possible in or out-patient procedures
  • Child care during treatment (if applicable)
  • Need for transportation to clinic or treatment facilities

All of these points should be considered as the greater cost of healthcare, since they are all impacted by the course of treatment.

In formulating a plan, patients will also need to look at their assets to determine how bills may be paid down and made more manageable.

This can include factoring considerations such as:

  • Insurance deductible
  • Changes in co-pay
  • Current and future income changes
  • Possible assets, including savings and home equity

Income should be examined closely, especially if the patient is likely to shift from a full time position to either part time or disability pay.  This can make a considerable difference in the funds that are coming in, and will greatly affect the ability to manage medical bills, especially over time.

Often, in going over assets and estimated bills, patients and their loved ones will be able to draft a budget that can attend to the majority of the costs.  However, it is also vitally important that patients re-adjust the budget as changes are realized.  It is also necessary to have all members of the household in cooperation when it comes to remaining within the strictures of this budget.  This means that ancillary concerns such as emergency repairs to the home, the need for a new vehicle, or other major expenses should also be factored in to the initial budget as potential possibilities.

Considering Further Options

It can also be advisable that patients and their family enlist the aid of a healthcare social worker.  This can help to uncover other options for paying and managing medical costs.  Most social workers are able to evaluate costs and funds and to direct patients to resources that can be of service in paying for treatment.  Some possible programs will require that patients meet certain qualifications in order to gain funding, although many programs also offer scalable resources, which means that most patients will be a able to qualify for some tier of assistance.

Assistance programs can be federally or independently based, and a social worker is able to direct patients and families to the financial aid that can be most beneficial to the situation.  Some possible programs include:

  • Government based benefits and financial assistance – these will often consider specific segments of the population when providing aid.  Although Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security assistance all fall under this category, special considerations in the case of chronic illness are often allowed in order for people to qualify for this type of assistance.  Generally, patients who are over the age of 65 will find that this may be one of their best options.
  • Non-profit resources – this can include general healthcare assistance, or may allow patients to qualify based on the specific nature of their illness.  Patient advocacy groups will often consider basic healthcare needs and affordability, while specialty groups that are committed to helping people with a specific condition can also be an option.  Many groups will provide some kind of support, regardless of specific requirements, although higher funding can be available for qualifying patients.
  • Medication assistance programs – these may have qualifications, but may also offer general help to any patient who is having trouble affording pharmaceuticals.  This type of assistance is accepted at nearly all pharmacies and can significantly reduce the out of pocket costs for prescriptions.

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