When you're sick, the last thing you want to worry about is how you'll afford your illness. Throughout the recent pandemic, there were stop-gap measures in place, but moving forward, you'll want to have a plan in case an extended illness is in your future. To reduce financial stress during an illness, here are several practical suggestions to ease your burden.
The best way to reduce financial stress during an illness is to plan for unexpected expenses. Otherwise, healthy people can contract long-term illnesses such as COVID-19 or other conditions, and the best time to address the financial implications of such a time is before it happens. Jim Valenzuela, owner of Foothill Financial & Insurance Services in Duarte, California, says that pre-planning is essential to weather the storm of an extended illness. "It would be in a person's best interest to have direct deposit set up to pay monthly, recurring bills such as the mortgage, auto insurance, and utilities automatically," Valenzuela says. "And having your paycheck deposited into your accounts makes paying bills that much easier."
Valenzuela suggests exploring long-term care insurance as part of your pre-planning process, as well as having your spouse or another trusted individual know where all your important paperwork is located. "Make sure all beneficiary forms are signed and updated," he says. "This will definitely help reduce further stress during a serious illness or injury, and now you and your loved ones can focus on getting you better."
Reassess monthly expenditures
Examining your budget is always a good idea, whether this is a pre-planning measure or one conducted during an illness. Kim Abrams, CEO of Abrams Roofing in Louisville, Kentucky, says the best way to feel in charge of your situation is to have a strategy for saving. "It must account for your entire financial picture, including your income, savings, debt, costs, and spending priorities, and then outline the most efficient way for you to achieve your goals," Abrams says. "Likewise, if you're consulting a financial planner for assistance in developing this strategy, it's in your best interest to share as much information as possible with them."
Benjamin Rose, owner of Trainer Academy, has some practical suggestions for reducing spending. "Meal planning, cooking at home, utilizing everything in the pantry and refrigerator, and adhering to shopping lists are all suggestions. Consider canceling or suspending subscriptions to services you don't need or use often, such as gym memberships, streaming services, and food delivery services," Rose says. "And repay debts. This is essential, even if you can pay just the minimum on credit obligations, so that you may address fundamental necessities and save money."
Check availability of programs
Worrying about affording an extended illness can be overwhelming, but many programs are available to those in need. While you might not think you qualify for Medicare/Medicaid, it doesn't hurt to inquire and apply for these government programs. Additionally, you should discuss your situation with your work supervisor and your Human Resources representative. Amy Shunick, corporate financial controller for Bennett Packaging Company, says, "Some companies have longer extended leave periods or offer more support for unexpected illness/injury. Your HR rep might be able to help you apply for certain grants or funding, especially if you've received a diagnosis of a serious disease or chronic illness."
Shunick recommends being forthcoming with your employer and not understating the severity of your illness. "The worst thing you can do is assure them you'll be better soon while continuing to request time off. Clear communication will help your manager know what to set their expectations at and what support you need while you recover," Shunick says. "You might need to apply for more affordable insurance due to your extended illness because it changes your qualifications. You can also reach out to charities to see if you can get any funding to help you make ends meet if your employer isn't able to offer paid time off past a certain point. Do your research, organize your budget, and weigh your options."
Medical bill management
Medical bills add up quickly and can cause added stress. Instead of ignoring calls from medical billing departments which will lead to calls from collection agencies, Joel Ohman, certified financial planner and CEO of Expert Insurance Reviews, recommends being proactive. "Call the hospital billing department instead of ignoring bills because you can't pay them. They will be able to talk through options with you. For example, perhaps you'll qualify for financial assistance."
Ohman says there may be payment plan options even if you don't qualify for assistance. He says, "Even if you have to pay $100 a month for years, as long as you keep making your payments, your account will be in good standing, and you won't have to worry about your credit being affected and dealing with collections."
Connect with a community
Having others who understand your situation is essential when you are going through illness coupled with financial stress. Michael Cummins, director of finance insurance for Insurance Geek, says, "Even just starting a GoFundMe page and sharing your story on social media can help give you a sense of control over your finances even if you have no control over your health. Researching and connecting with others who are going through the same struggles as you could be an uplifting distraction as you wait for your body to heal."
Managing financial stress during an extended illness doesn't have to spell disaster. By preparing, researching, and connecting with resources, you can weather the storm of your illness without financial ruin.