Illustration: Chelsea Miller
Life Changes 4 min read

Dealing with Illness

Keep your fingers on the pulse of your financial health.

Serious sickness can strike both suddenly and unexpectedly. And its effects can be devastating to your emotional health, your financial resources, and your long-term plans. But if you're prepared, it's possible to weather an illness.

How Illness Hits

Remember that when you or someone you love gets sick or is injured seriously, the effects are emotional as well as financial. In fact, the two are often linked. Can you afford to spend hours a day tending to a sick person in your home? Are you willing to do it? Will you need help? Where can you find help and at what cost?

While there is no way to accurately predict the effects of illness, you can create a plan that gives you flexibility.

What to Do

The cost of healthcare continues to soar, so you need to be sure you can pay the bills. At the same time, whoever is ill may not be earning as much as in the past, and whoever is providing care might lose income as well. It's smart to anticipate what your cutbacks in income might be, along with the likely expenses you will face.

Can you afford to spend hours a day tending to a sick person in your home?

While it's impossible to predict what your financial situation might be, it helps to consider these questions:

  • If somebody got sick or hurt, where would you find money to pay the healthcare bills?
  • What portion would your insurance policy cover?
  • Would you have to cash in some of your investments or ask your family for help?
  • Could you take time off from work to care for a loved one who has become ill?

Insurance

Another key part of planning for a medical emergency is to examine your insurance coverage. With healthcare costs constantly growing, it is important that you protect yourself and your family from the catastrophes that all too often strike—not just sickness or injury, but the financial setbacks that can follow from the cost of treating them.

Protect yourself and your family from the catastrophes that all too often strike.

For these reasons, you might want to look into long-term care insurance, which typically covers some of the costs that may follow a serious illness, like homecare or time in a nursing facility. You may be able to purchase this type of insurance through a group plan at work, but private coverage is available as well. Most experts suggest that you purchase long-term care insurance in your mid to late 50s, since the costs get much higher if you're older than that age.

Living Wills and Proxies

Be aware that sudden illness or injury may severely incapacitate the person it strikes—so severely that the person cannot take part in deciding how to handle his or her care, treatment, or rehabilitation. And the nature of such emergencies typically requires quick, decisive action.

Illustration: Cristi Cash

That's why a living will and healthcare proxy can be essential. Each is a document that explains what medical treatment you want if you become ill and can't communicate your wishes directly. The living will details the procedures you want or don't want in these situations. The healthcare proxy lets you name someone whom you want to be in charge of any further decisions about your care or treatment. Requirements and forms for these documents vary from state to state, so be sure yours are valid and up to date.

Be aware that sudden illness or injury may severely incapacitate the person it strikes—so severely that the person cannot take part in deciding how to handle his or her care.

Your lawyer and healthcare providers can usually advise you on what to do in this regard. And once you have the right documents prepared, you should give them to someone who might need quick access to them—your partner, adult children, attorney, or doctor.

Medicaid

If you or someone you love is ill, you may be able to get some help from the government. Medicaid, which is state-run and administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), an agency within the US Department of Health and Human Services, provides insurance to low-income people who have large healthcare costs, particularly nursing home bills. If you qualify, Medicaid may pay for the cost of a nursing home or adult daycare facility.

There are strict limitations concerning who qualifies for Medicaid, and the rules for eligibility vary from state to state. In general, Medicaid recipients are those people who can afford little of the costs of professional care. Medicaid then pays the rest of the bills.

There are strict limitations concerning who qualifies for Medicaid

You should also be aware that some nursing facilities don't readily accept Medicaid patients. And Medicaid itself only pays for nursing homes that meet specific standards.

For more information on Medicaid, you can go to the CMS website, medicaid.gov.

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