The Cost of a Medical Emergency

Are you prepared for a medical emergency?  You should think about how to be ready for one.

NO ONE is exempt from a medical emergency.  We are all at risk for an accident. My 43-year-old sister just experienced a life-changing emergency. She had a heart attack! We are extremely lucky we didn’t lose her the day she had a blood clot block 100% of a major artery in her heart. She narrowly avoided surgery and doctors were able to clear the blockage with the placement of a stent. Now, she needs to recover. That includes a list of multiple medications, cardiac rehab, cardiologist and pulmonologist visits for the next several months.

My sister’s heart attack was a traumatic experience for our whole family and we are forever grateful she was at the hospital already when her heart attack occurred. The care the hospital staff provided was top notch and they never mentioned how she would pay for her life-saving treatment. After five days in the hospital, half of which was in the intensive care unit, she will receive a life-changing medical bill. Or should I say bills, plural?

The stress of being off work and now figuring out how to pay for her medical bills will be a factor in her recovery process.  My sister didn’t have health insurance. Her bill from the hospital alone is already over $100,000. She hasn’t been notified yet what the doctor bills will be from just her 5 days in the hospital, let alone for the next twelve months.

According to CBS News, “the average total cost of a severe heart attack–including direct and indirect costs–is about $1 million. Direct costs include charges for hospitals, doctors and prescription drugs, while the indirect costs include lost productivity and time away from work. The average cost of a less severe heart attack is about $760,000.”1  This was reported in 2010.  For those with insurance, you’re in trouble too!  Forbes reports that your out of pocket costs have risen about 33% since CBS News’ report.2

Here are some things you can do to be prepared for a costly emergency medical situation for you or one of your family members.

  1. Build that emergency fund. If you have risk factors that make you more likely to have a car accident or medical emergencies, like a stroke or heart attack, you should consider building your emergency fund far more than just the typical three to six-months of expenses recommendation.
  2. Know which facilities are best for those without insurance or have specialists that are sure to be in your network, if you have insurance. If you don’t have insurance you are considered a cash patient and there may be different prices that you will pay because of it.  Some facilities will reduce your charges based on your income so be sure to do your research before you need their services! If you can know where you want to receive medical care it just may help reduce your cost later. Obviously, in a life or death situation, you take whatever medical care you can get.
  3. Know your risk factors.  Educate yourself about the most common medical emergencies; car accident, heart attack, stroke, allergic reaction, seizure, or loss of blood due to injury. Know what makes you more likely to have one of these emergencies and begin to reduce your risk. Focus on factors you can control, like your diet, exercise, smoking, job duties, and travel methods to name a few.
  4. If you have had an emergency already, review your bills for accuracy and make sure you understand the charges.  Don’t be afraid to negotiate your bill. If you have health insurance, your insurance company is on your side to be sure the charges are fair and accurate. Ask them for their help! For example, if a doctor’s services come back as out-of-network discuss it with your insurance company; they may be able to get approval for in-network pricing.  Don’t be afraid to apply for assistance to help you pay your bills. A lot of hospital systems have programs you can apply for in order to reduce your bill amount.

Emergencies happen when you least expect them. You have to be prepared ahead of time the best that you can in order to keep the costs related to an emergency from destroying your financial future. Read our previous post on being sure your important documents are organized and ready for someone who would help you during a medical emergency.  Enjoy your life and try not to worry about those things you cannot control. Being prepared will help you more than you can imagine!




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