1,495 Americans Describe the Financial Reality of Being Really Sick


Illness can also put financial strain on family members who are not sick themselves. Dana Lewis thought she had become an expert at navigating the health care system after caring for twin daughters born with cerebral palsy. But when her husband’s dementia worsened and he needed nursing home care, she encountered new logistical and financial obstacles.

To qualify him for Medicaid in Oklahoma, where they live, she was required to spend down her assets, including liquidating her 401(k) retirement savings. “Now I’m 60 years old, and I have zero retirement,” she said. The survey found that those taking care of ill relatives can often face such challenges. Twenty-three percent of those surveyed said friends or family members caring for the ill person ran into financial strain as a result of this responsibility, and 15 percent of caregivers had to quit or change their jobs.

Maria Elena Flores, 64, had been working as a home health aide for seniors when she had to give up her job in 2012 to provide the same care to her husband, who was recovering from triple bypass heart surgery. Since then, his health has declined. He developed vascular dementia and was acting erratically last year when he caused Ms. Flores to fall and injure her back.

Even with her expertise, she has struggled to find the right care for her husband near their home in San Ysidro, Calif. He was discharged from one nursing home because of his behavior, she said, and her local hospital was unable to help her find another place to care for him.

Because he was a headache for them,” she said. She continues to care for him at home.

More than two-thirds of people in the survey said their doctors had never discussed the cost of their care. Medical providers generally don’t, particularly among the most acutely ill. But some clinicians have started talking more about such matters, noting that the financial stress of unpaid medical bills should be seen as another kind of side effect of certain treatments.

Khurram Nasir, an associate professor of medicine at Yale, has adopted a phrase from cancer research, “financial toxicity,” as he realized many of his cardiac patients were struggling to pay for care and making tough choices like skipping pills or cutting back on food.

“When I started realizing this, I took it upon myself as a responsibility to talk to my patients about these issues,” he said. “It was very hard for patients to bring this topic to our attention.”

Source : Nytimes