Managing the financial shock of an unexpected illness

Learning that you or a loved one has a long-term illness can be an emotional and scary situation, and, naturally, most individuals’ first concern is understanding the steps they must take to get better. After consumers are educated on the steps and treatments they must undergo, another type of anxiety tends to set in: the financial cost of an illness.

Between hospital visits, treatments, medications and lifestyle changes that may need to accompany the process, bills can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. In addition, insurers may only cover a portion of certain treatments, leaving patients to cover the remaining costs out-of-pocket. As a result, many patients unable to afford care end up with high-interest loan balances or credit card debt. While this type of situation can lead to feelings of hopelessness and anxiety for individuals, there are measures they can explore to manage their costs.

First and foremost, individuals must know what their insurance policy covers. Dealing with insurers can be a complex situation, but understanding exactly what is included in their coverage options is imperative, because it may influence a patient’s choice of treatments and prescription medications. It’s also important for individuals to be upfront with their doctors about their financial picture, because physicians are in a position to prescribe more cost-effective medications and suggest more affordable treatments if patients request it. A recent Fox Business article highlighted the importance of keeping good records about doctors visits and the treatments and medications suggested, particularly if they seek a second or third opinion. Doing so can help individuals not only keep track of paperwork for recordkeeping and billing purposes, but also make the process easier if they switch insurers, seek a new doctor or relapse in the future.

Exploring different payment resources

Close contact with insurers and doctors is only a part of the puzzle, and individuals can also manage costs by exploring hospital resources. Choosing the right hospital to attend is important because it can yield considerable savings over the term of treatment. For example, many consumers may not be aware that pricing for services and treatments varies by hospitals, and contacting surrounding facilities to ask about pricing for certain procedures can help patients make more informed decisions about both cost and quality.

“One MRI facility may charge $500 for a scan, and a block away, another charges $1,500 for the same service,” Jeffrey Kang, Cigna’s chief medical officer, told Kiplinger. “But the quality of care is pretty much the same.”

Most hospitals also offer payment plans and many also provide discounts for patients who can pay upfront or in cash. Hospitals may also enter into price break negotiations if patients simply ask for a discount or reduction.