15 Things I Learned About Finance from Having a Chronic Illness

Chronic illnesses are on the rise in the United States. 133 million Americans – about 45% of the population live with at least one chronic illness. Not only that, but medical bills make up the majority of collections on credit reports. Although rules have changed regarding reporting unpaid medical bills to collections, they can still heavily impact your finances. And let’s face it – the credit bureaus aren’t perfect, so if you’re not vigilant about keeping an eye on your credit reports, they can still potentially have a negative impact. Here are 15 things I learned from having a chronic illness that can have an impact on both your overall physical and financial well-being:

Make sure your doctor is covered by your health insurance: This is a no-brainer. Medical costs are rising, so you want to make sure your doctor is covered by your health insurance in order to keep costs down as mush as possible. Many employers will be having Open Enrollment soon, so you’ll want to make sure that if there are any changes to your health plan, that your doctor will still be covered. If you’re unsure, pick up the phone and call your health insurance provider. Which brings us to…
Make sure you trust your doctor: Number one is more important if you trust your doctor. Since you’re living with a chronic illness, this likely means more tests and more trips to the doctor’s office. Because of this, it’s important to maintain a good relationship with your doctor. You don’t want to be getting treatment from a doctor you don’t like or don’t trust.
Keep up on your medical bills. Don’t be afraid to negotiate a payment plan: So many people are shocked when they see medical bills in the mail. Their excuse for not paying them is “my insurance was supposed to cover that,” but this isn’t always the case. If you think there was a billing error, get in contact with your healthcare and insurance providers. Medical bills can really add up and seem impossible to pay, especially when you have so many. Lots of healthcare providers are willing to work out a payment plan, so communicate with them to see what your options are. Other things you can consider are balance transfer credit cards or personal loans if your credit is in good standing.
Make a budget: If you know that you have certain medications you need filled each month, make sure you include these in your monthly expenses. If you are paying monthly installments on a medical bill, make sure you include these as well. Evaluate your spending to see if certain expenses like eating out can be eliminated to help you get out of debt.
Check your credit: This is an extremely important part of your finances. It’s a good idea to monitor your credit for any changes. It’s easy for medical bills to slip through the cracks and get sold to collections. If you frequently monitor your credit, you’ll be alerted of any changes. Keep in mind that medical providers do have to wait 180 days until they report unpaid medical bills to the credit bureaus, but if you did forget about something a new account showing up in collections can have a negative impact.

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Get a second opinion: Sometimes your primary care physician may not be able to answer all your questions about your illness. In that case, it may be a good idea to consult a specialist. This is usually more expensive, so you’ll need to take a look at your finances to make sure you can afford it. Or go back to number three and see if you can negotiate a payment plan. Either way, a specialist likely knows more than your doctor and it may pay off in the long run to go see one.
If your medication isn’t covered by your insurance, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for a similar one that is: Prescriptions can be expensive – especially if they’re medications you need to take for the rest of your life. My doctor has given me the option of which drugs I want to take to manage my illness. They’re similar to one another so if one isn’t covered by my insurance, then another one likely is and I can call back for a new prescription. Since you’re the one forking out the cash on the medications, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask your doctor for one that costs less and is just as effective. Consider generics if they’re available.

If you still can’t afford your prescription, find a manufacturer’s coupon: In some cases, a generic drug won’t be available. One piece of advice I received from a pharmacist when I couldn’t afford my medication was to go online and look for a manufacturer’s coupon. Between that and my insurance, my co-pay was reduced to zero. A zero-dollar co-pay may not always be the case but these can help reduce co-pays to a more affordable amount.
Go to your doctor’s appointments and keep up on treatment: While it may be tempting to save money by skipping doctor’s appointments or treatment, this isn’t a good idea. In the short-term, this may put less of a strain on your budget, but in the long-term, this can impact your health and end up costing you more money, especially if your illness gets worse.
Enroll in an FSA or HSA plan: Many employer insurance plans offer the option to enroll in an FSA or HSA account. If you don’t receive insurance through an employer, some banks or credit unions will offer these types of accounts as well.  Basically, you allocate an amount each month to go into these accounts. The money that goes into them isn’t taxed and they can be used for many types of medical expenses. I’ve found them to be very useful because they don’t cut into my monthly budget as much and I’m saving money on taxes. It’s a double win.
Get the insurance plan that works best for you and your family: When looking at health insurance plans, you may be tempted to pick the plan with the lowest monthly premium. I know I was. But in the end, this cost me more money because of how high my deductible was. Even if it means spending a little more each month, it may pay off. Carefully review your budget and medical expenses, and decide on which plan you think will be best for you, your family, and your finances.
Don’t be afraid to ask your employer to accommodate your needs: Going to doctor’s appointments can be inconvenient, especially if it cuts into your work hours. Be transparent with your employer and see if they are willing to change your schedule in order to accommodate your health needs.
Take time for you: Having a chronic illness means that you may have a harder time balancing – after all, it’s one more thing you have to deal with. Stress can make your symptoms or conditions worse, which can affect your overall health and your finances, so make sure you take time for yourself to unwind and relax from your daily stresses.
Surround yourself with people who care about you: Having a support system can make an impact in how well you take care of yourself. It can also lend you emotional support you need when dealing with a chronic illness seems like too much to bear. Again, positivity can go a long way in improving your attitude and your health, which can also lead to a positive impact on your finances.
Don’t get discouraged! Finally, don’t get discouraged. You’re not alone. Balancing health and finance can be difficult but it’s doable if you stick to a budget and measure all of your options. Remember too that if you want to check your credit, credit.com offers two free credit scores that are updated every 14 days, which can be a convenient way to help you keep up on your finances and your credit.

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