Money, money, money! Wouldn’t it be super if we all had tons of money, or if health care was absolutely free, or if we could pay our doctors in smiles and candy bars?
But alas, it’s not the case. Living life can be expensive. Living a sick life can be absurdly expensive. So the question is: "How do you pay for this stuff?"
If you’re sick, this "stuff" includes, in addition to your mortgage and your utility bills, medications, co-pays, hospital bills, medical supplies, etc., etc., etc. The reality is that many people go into debt and even file bankruptcy because of medical conditions. I am no exception.
I am a twenty-something single female who lives alone in a house. At the time of my diagnosis, I had a mediocre job paying about $35,000 a year. I did have health insurance; it wasn’t great, but at least I had it. Soon enough the doctors’ bills and prescription costs started rolling in, and my single girl salary wasn’t cutting it. I had a car payment, a mortgage, and two adorable dogs. How was I going to pay for this?
Then it went from bad to worse. I found out I was going to need surgery. I had never used my health insurance before so I didn’t know what was going to be covered. When my first surgery bill came in and it was double my annual salary, it was time to start thinking bankruptcy.
I worried about losing my house–the only thing worse than being broke was moving back in with my parents. Fortunately, my insurance turned out to be better than mediocre and covered everything except my $8,000 deductible. But still, $8,000? Who has that lying around? I sure didn’t.
So that’s when my medical debt started and it wasn’t paid off until recently–almost five years after my first surgery. Through my journey into medical debt I learned a few things I’m happy to share with you. First, I want to preface this with the acknowledgement that I am very fortunate. I have an amazingly supportive family who helped me out when and where they could, and for that I am forever grateful. I also know that not everyone has the luxury of that kind of support.
So here is what I learned:
Hospital patient assistance programs
Are you low-income? Or do you have an exceptionally high deductible on your health insurance? If so, call your hospital and ask about assistance programs. I have stayed in a lot of different hospitals and almost all of them have a program to help you with your medical bills. Some hospitals are willing to put you on a payment plan with monthly installments to help you pay your bills without interest charges. I have even dealt with hospitals that will take off a percentage (sometimes a large percentage) of your total bill if you can prove you are low-income or that your insurance does not cover the services rendered. There are some programs for low-income patients, which can make your bill disappear thanks to organizations that donate money to help those with high deductibles or no health insurance. Sometimes there are limitations to these programs, but that is why you need to investigate if your hospital has a patient assistance program. You just have to ask. You’ll probably need to make a lot of phone calls and you may get transferred a whole lot, but eventually you may find out that they can help you out.
Medication assistance programs
At one point, my medication costs were more than I made in a year. Since I was single and poor, the big pharma companies took pity on me and helped me out. They may be able to do the same for you, too. Talk to your doctor or call the pharmaceutical company and ask about patience assistance programs. Often, they can get your co-pay down to a reasonable amount. It’s worth digging around on a pharma’s website to find who you need to contact and then make the call.
Medical supply help
Are you an ostomate in need of supplies? Check out Osto-Group. It helps provide ostomy supplies to those in need for just the cost of shipping. They have partnered with us at Girls With Guts because we love what they do and they help so many people.
Take advantage of samples
Medical supply companies and distributors love to give out samples. You probably can’t get a whole month covered through samples, but you often can get at least some supplies if you ask. You can get samples of things other than ostomy supplies, too. When I had a bad infection, I called the supplier of Medi-Honey for a sample and they sent me a bottle free of charge.
Don’t be afraid to ask
The key to getting assistance with your medical costs is often as simple as asking. When you’re caught up in being sick or recovering, you usually don’t have the energy to sit on the phone and fight about bills. This is where your family can help. Your mom may be willing to sit on hold for an hour to talk to the billing person so you don’t have to. Your sister can make those calls to supply companies to request samples. Everyone around you wants to help, so let them help where they can. Never be afraid to ask for financial help if you need it, and don’t be reluctant to ask for general help from those who want so much to support you.
Jackie Zimmerman is a multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis patient and the founder and executive director of Girls With Guts. Since diagnosis, she has blogged her IBD journey at Blood, Poop, and Tears. Jackie has worked hard to become a strong voice in the patient advocacy community and pays it forward as Social Ambassador of the IBDHealthCentral Facebook page. In her free time (what free time?!) she spends time with her two rescue pups and plays roller derby. She’s online @JackieZimm.