It's hard to know where to start when presenting the latest and profoundly upsetting information about people's experiences with health care costs. We're not just talking about folks without insurance. Life-crushing expenses happen to full-time workers with company plans!
1. A Gallup poll found that 34 million U.S. adults have one friend or family member in the past five years who died after not receiving needed medical treatment because they were unable to pay for it; 58 million adults report inability to pay for needed drugs in the past year, even when they have some form of health insurance.
2. In 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that medical debt was the most common reason debt collectors contacted someone. Around 530,000 families turn to bankruptcy each year because of medical issues and bills.
3. Americans' out-of-pocket health spending will total $11 trillion in the next decade on insurance premiums, copays, deductibles and uncovered medical expenses. This seems like a crazy figure, but when Kaiser Health News fact-checked it, they found it to be a reasonable estimate.
4. The stories illustrating the harm done every day to people are legion: There's the guy in North Carolina who went to an emergency room for a feral cat scratch, didn't need a rabies shot, and was still sent a bill for $2,500. There are families caravanning to Canada to buy insulin — it's up to 90% less expensive there — in order to prevent the death of their kids with Type 1 diabetes. What about folks who need drugs to treat uncommon conditions, such as chronic granulomatous disease? Their medication, Actimmune, costs $40,000 a month for a typical supply. We could go on.
Taking Control of Your Health Future
You cannot dodge every health hazard: Bad things happen to good (and healthy) people. But the hazards of our health care system make it ever more important that you try to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible, and you can!
If you want to slash your risk for many chronic diseases by 80% and slash your lifetime medical bills by 50%, aim for what we call the "6+2 normals." That's blood pressure less than 130 over 85; LDL cholesterol less than 70; body mass index less than 30; hemoglobin A1C less than 6.4%; avoid all first- and secondhand smoke; and do stress management daily. The Plus 2: See a primary care provider yearly and keep your immunizations up-to-date.
What Can You Do If You Get Hit With Big Medical Bills?
If you're in trouble because of medical bills or are skipping treatment and meds because of the costs, look into the following sources of assistance. Not all will help with every drug, disease or situation, but they're free. Do NOT pay for services that claim to provide drug-cost assistance; they're often dubious at best.
1. Start with NeedyMeds (needymeds.org). It's a nonprofit information resource that can lead you to assistance programs, databases and organizations (around 40,000 of them!) that offer patient- and disease-based assistance for medical expenses and more; drug coupons and rebates; and connections to free, low-cost and sliding-scale clinics.
2. For co-pay assistance there's CancerCare (800-813-HOPE). They pay up to $15,000 to income-eligible patients and more (cancercare.org). Patient Advocate Foundation (patientadvocate.org) helps with co-pays and case-management services. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (lls.org) has a co-pay assistance program for blood transfusions, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and more.
If you find yourself sinking into unpayable debt because of health care costs, reach out to organizations that can help. To help those in need, consider taking action, like the Vineyard Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They raised $18,000 and were able to purchase a bundle of old medical debt worth $2.9 million — and forgive it all! An organization called RIP Medical Debt (ripmedicaldebt.org) helped that congregation and many others across the country make that happen.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit sharecare.com.
(c)2019 Michael Roizen, M.D.
and Mehmet Oz, M.D.