How Getting Sick Affects Your Finances

Even a pesky cold or flu can take a toll on your financial situation.

Getting sick is an unavoidable part of life. At best, you will experience only minor ailments that create a mild inconvenience in your daily routine. At worst, you or someone you love could face a serious illness, and every aspect of your life may be affected as a result.

Many people don’t realize just how much an illness can affect their financial lives. Something as small as the common cold or a serious allergy can take a toll on your bank account, especially if paid time off isn’t available to you.

According to Workplace Fairness, “[T]here is no general legal requirement that employers give employees sick leave. While most employers do in fact give employees some paid time off each year to be used for sick leave, the law does not require employers to do so in most circumstances.”

If you’re an independent contractor, business owner, or just an employee who isn’t granted sick leave, this means that even a minor illness can turn into a financial burden.

Having paid sick leave doesn’t always protect you, either. A more serious illness requiring an extended leave of absence can significantly affect your finances. You may have to turn to your emergency fund and possibly deplete your savings just to pay everyday bills. You may even need to take out a loan or use your credit cards to keep you afloat.

Did you know that medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.? According to National Partnership for Women and Families, “[f]or a family without paid sick days, on average, 3.1 days of pay lost to illness is equivalent to the family’s entire monthly health care budget, and 3.5 days of pay lost to illness is equivalent to its entire monthly grocery budget.”

Even with health insurance, many find that their bills are simply unaffordable. The costs of minor conditions, if they require frequent doctors’ visits and treatments, can quickly add up.

Naturally, being without health insurance can make this situation much more complicated. You may find yourself paying hundreds of dollars for a strep throat diagnosis and antibiotic prescription. And, although the Affordable Care Act requires most Americans to buy health insurance, approximately 24 million people in the U.S. still go without.

That’s not to mention the American Health Care Act. Should it pass, this Republican-backed replacement of the ACA is expected to increase health care costs for 130 million Americans, and allows insurers to charge higher rates to those with pre-existing conditions.

That’s a lot to take in. So what can you do to keep yourself — and your bank account — healthy?

Prevention

The best thing you can do to protect yourself from getting sick is to maintain healthy habits. Certain vaccinations, such as flu shots, can help keep you healthy — and avoid missing a week or more of work while holed up with the flu. (And let’s be honest: No one wants that. I’d rather spend my days off on a beach somewhere!)

Eat well, exercise regularly, eliminate toxic habits, and don’t skip those routine visits with the doctor. Ask yourself if you’re doing everything in your power to take care of yourself and your health. If you know you aren’t, make an effort to change.

Health and Disability Insurance

Get health insurance if you don’t have it already. If your employer doesn’t offer health insurance, you can compare health care plans offered through the Affordable Care Act, (for the time being, at least), or you can purchase your own health care plan. Even if you’re young and healthy, it’s important to remember that illness can strike at any time and can cost more than you ever imagined.

If you’re unable to afford health insurance, you can explore other options for taking care of medical bills and paying off medical debt. You may be able to negotiate the cost of your medical bills and work out a payment plan. Learn best practices for negotiating medical bills so that they don’t go to collections and damage your credit rating.

In addition to health insurance, you may want to purchase a disability insurance policy, especially if you are your household’s sole breadwinner. These policies can protect you in the event of an illness, injury, or accident that makes you unable to work. Depending on the type of policy you opt for, you could receive income protection for up to two years.

Emergency Savings

One of the simplest steps you can take to protect yourself from a health-related financial crisis is to build an emergency fund. Ideally, you’ll want to have three to six months’ worth of expenses saved. This money should cover all of your bills and necessities so that you don’t go into debt if you find yourself having to take time off work. No one likes to think about needing such a fund, but if you do, you’ll be glad you were prepared. Think of it as health insurance for your finances!

There is no telling what the future may bring. But by preparing for the ways that illness can affect your finances, you can save yourself a lot of worry. Illness is stressful enough; make sure you are in a position to focus on getting well, not stuck worrying about your finances.

  • Donna Lowe

    I’m just curious Amber, from where did you find that very specific dollar amount that the American Health Care Act will be increasing and costing us?

    • Rachel Morgan Cautero

      Hi Donna, we found the statistic about how many Americans the American Health Care Act is estimated to increase health care costs for here: http://time.com/money/4763609/pre-existing-conditions-ahca/. It wasn’t a dollar amount, rather, an estimated number of people for whom the cost would increase. Hopefully this is helpful, and thanks for reading!