The financial implications of getting ill

In some countries, the subject of who should pay for healthcare has become a political topic. But even in the UK, where healthcare is paid for by the state, those who become ill suffer financially.

Th BBC reported on debts related to one illness, cancer.  That’s not a typo, the article is about debts, not deaths.  According to the charity MacMillan Cancer support, cancer patients often ask about debt rather than dying.  The debt is not incurred by paying for treatment, but through joblessness.

Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas once commented how difficult it was to find work when you have cancer.  When he was first diagnosed, he kept the information to himself. “Hollywood was not the kind of place where people wanted to work with a cancer victim… so we didn’t want anyone to know I was sick.” he writes in his memoir, Hollywood Animal.

Many people with cancer are able to work.  But, even among those, some find themselves without work either because of discrimination or a temporary disability which might make their workplace less accessible.

Cancer is not the only illness that can have a financial impact.  The film “Philadelphia”, starring Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks, was about a lawyer who lost his job when he became infected with HIV.

For many ill people, it’s not discrimination that brings the financial burden.  It’s the responsibilities involved with the disease itself.  Sick people sometimes require full time care, which can put the ill person (and often at least one family member) out of work.  Even when full time care is not needed, treatment takes time, and travel to places of treatment takes time, and time spent away from work means less money in the bank.

Relying on state funded carers might seem like an option, but many people cope better if they are looked after by someone they know, at least some of the time.

If you haven’t been affected yet, it may make sense to check your insurance policy before its too late.  Make sure it covers periods of work lost due to illness, either your own illness or that of a love one you may have to look after.

That said, the advice of Dr Aniruddha Malpani

Insurance is an expense, not an investment

Insurance salesmen want you to think of insurance as an investment. It’s not!

Treat term life insurance as a policy you rent to give you peace of mind that your family is protected against economic loss in case you die. Don’t get carried away by all the expensive bells and whistles they try to sell you 😊

He later clarifies:

When life insurance is used sensibly ( term life for an economically productive family member ) , then it’s fine. My point is that it’s mis-sold and over-sold, so that many people end up buying [expensive] and inappropriate insurance policies !

Don’t get in debt over unnecessary expenses, but try to keep some savings aside in case you get sick.

Beware of recurring expenses that might charge your credit card while you are in hospital.  Even if you cancel your credit cards, some subscription services find ways to charge through direct debit or Paypal type services.  Imagine being stuck with a 700 pound bill for Adobe Cloud while you’re in hospital and unable to use Photoshop!  How many other services, like broadband or extra television channels, are you subscribed to that you won’t use when you’re in hospital?

That said, there is good news on the horizon.  A few financial institutions, starting with the building society Nationwide and two years later followed by the Lloyds TSB group, have decided to offer support for customers who are financially affected by cancer.

Perhaps you could talk to your bank about those recurring expenses, and what can be done should you find yourself unable to deal with your finances.

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