Being Prepared for and Walking Through Medical Crisis

Being Prepared for and Walking Through Medical Crisis

Life can change in an instant. For me, that moment was on a routine drive to take my then 8-year-old son to school. Drought conditions had made the ground resistant to torrential rain. Water had ponded on the road, causing our car to hydroplane and crash into a truck much larger than our vehicle.

What ensued was two weeks in the ICU for my son and months of recovery, with some residual physical effects, not to mention the emotional toll of this near-death experience.

The details of our story are harrowing and could fill several books at this point. What I want to share with you instead are the things I’m grateful I had done prior to that moment and some things I wish I had done to make our journey smoother.

  • Adverse events can require up-front costs beyond the cash you might have on hand. Having a ready source of low-interest funding can be a lifesaver. For me, that was a home equity line of credit I had set up and left dormant.*
  • Set up online banking and bill pay to automate key expenses like your house payment, utilities, and other major bills. Do it while you’re not in crisis mode, and you’ll be ready. We were uprooted from our home in Chattanooga to Atlanta when my son required a higher level of care for several months. Knowing that major bills were automatically paid and others could be easily handled electronically was a huge help.
  • Get an accordion folder to organize and easily transport the essential paper records you’ll need. I used this for the information and instructions for my son’s care, as well as the bills, which came from multiple sources. This also made it easier to contact each biller to set up a payment plan and communicate regularly.
  • Two pieces of advice about those healthcare payments: If you participate in a high-deductible healthcare plan, opening and contributing to a health savings account (HSA) will benefit you via tax deductions even if you don’t have an emergency. The funds stay with you through and following retirement. If you don’t qualify for an HSA and your employer offers an FSA, it has tax benefits too, but the dollars will need to be spent within the designated plan year or grace period, with some companies offering a small rollover amount.*
  • An emergency fund is critical, so I strongly recommend everyone contribute habitually to one each month, year after year. It’s also a great place to put unexpected windfalls or bonuses.
  • For people and families who are still building their earning power and savings, accident or critical illness insurance may make sense. Employers often offer these. Check with an insurance professional to find out if you would benefit from these “rider” policies that can cover initial deductible amounts or expenses related to the crisis or illness that aren’t covered by your basic healthcare insurance policy.
  • If your employer offers short-term disability and you can afford the premiums, sign up. This is especially important if your company doesn’t roll over PTO from year to year. In our case, neither I nor my wife was able to work for a few months, so short-term disability kept us from losing all of our income during that time.
  • Ask about options for paying your bills. Some may offer discounts for up-front payments or flexible payment plans.
  • A denied claim isn’t necessarily the end. Look at all your options, including appeal, and talk with your doctor about support.
  • Double-check each medical bill to match the date of service with your progress toward deductible or maximum out-of-pocket. This helps avoid over-payment.
  • Check your credit report periodically. Bills can slip through or be filed incorrectly, and you need to know when that happens.
  • If people offer to help, accept it. Just lifting one burden can make a big difference. If someone asks what they can do and something pops to mind, don’t hesitate to ask for whatever you need. You can always “pay it forward” later.
  • Take advantage of support groups, therapy and other services. You’re not alone, and there are people who can help you process the trauma. Anonymous counseling services are often available through employers and are intended for moments just like this. Schools offer services for children and teens, including Individualized Education and 504 Plans that offer extra time on assignments or assistance taking notes.

And when you’ve come through the fire and life returns to normal, you’ll have opportunities to share your story with others. You never know who might be going through something similar.

 

Jeremy Mason is an office leader at Pinnacle’s Shallowford Road office in Chattanooga, TN. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 423-459-9035.


* All loans are subject to credit approval. The administration of an HSA is a taxpayer responsibility. You are strongly encouraged to consult your tax advisor before opening an HSA. For HSA and FSA annual contributions, you should review information available from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for taxpayers, which can be found on the IRS website at IRS.gov. The information provided herein is general in nature. It is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal or tax advice. 

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