What My Mother’s Illness Taught Me About Personal Finance

When my mother became ill a few years ago, I did what all adult children usually do: worry and think, “She has to be OK! She’s the parent.” Finances, however, didn’t enter my mind.

It was interesting to note that my parents – level-headed as always – remembered to consider the financial repercussions of Mom’s illness as well as the health repercussions. Because of that, their finances were able to weather the upheaval that an illness can cause.

Finding the best deal: It may seem unthinkable to “shop” for a doctor and treatments when facing a major illness, but that is what my parents did. Cancer is a tricky disease because one never knows how an individual will respond to treatment once the diagnosis is complete. For Mom, it was recommended that she have both surgery and chemotherapy, both of which came with huge price tags. Always the thrifty shopper, she and my father considered the best prices as much as they were able. Their shopping around was not necessarily for the benefit of their insurance company, but because they knew this illness could cost enough to reach the caps of their coverage, and then they would be responsible for the extra costs.

After many discussions with her doctor and the second-opinion doctor, combing the Internet and reading whatever they could get their hands on, my parents decided it would make the most sense financially to have the surgery performed in their hometown. Thanks to the recently updated surgical facilities, the cost-benefit of driving two hours away to the next big city was minimized. The surgeon my parents chose was as experienced as the one they considered in the other city, and the hospital where recovery would begin was smaller, yet cheaper, with a good nursing and support staff.

After the surgery and hospital stay, recovery continued for Mom at home. Thankfully, she had a live-in caregiver – my father – to take care of her; so considering the cost of hired help was not an issue.

My parents also considered going out of town for the chemotherapy, but the cost of driving to the next big city together with discomfort of the chemotherapy symptoms and exceptional local cancer treatment center, swayed my parents to again stay in their hometown.

Still terrifying, those bills: When the bills started arriving, the totals were frightening. I wasn’t much help as I gasped about the costs, but my father steadfastly called the insurance companies when something seemed amiss, paid what they owed and took Mom to her aftercare appointments. I was able to pitch in and complete by father’s regular tasks, such as taking care of the yard, cooking a bit and such, which would have either been ignored or hired out if I hadn’t been able to be there.

My parents did have to dip into their savings to help pay everyday expenses, co-payments and other medical bills they were responsible for when the insurance topped out. Thankfully, they had socked away enough money to cover six months of expenses in their savings. Also, years before Mom got sick, my parents had taken out cancer treatment coverage out with AFLAC. It really helped at a time like this to have the extra cash available when my parents needed it most.

Sadly, the combination of cancer and pre-existing heart disease finally took Mom. My father, while desperately sad, was not burdened with the additional worry of being financially destitute from the cancer treatments, thanks to their good planning and research.

Lessons learned: With the recession looming, medical costs and lack of health insurance make a major illness even scarier. Hopefully, I will be able to help my father as valiantly as he helped Mom should he get ill. Therefore, I’m going to strive to:

  • Encourage my father (and myself) to maintain an emergency savings account to draw from for medical, and other, emergencies.
  • Shop around for medical care, especially to strive for the best combination in medical care and cost-effectiveness.
  • Remember to consider recovery costs. Will I need to hire people to help with cooking, cleaning, personal care, etc.?
  • Keep my head about me when the big medical bills arrive and deal carefully with the insurance companies and medical facilities.
  • Be confident of a cure, but also prepare for final costs, including creating a will, burial, and considering another person to take over the finances, if necessary.
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5 Responses to What My Mother’s Illness Taught Me About Personal Finance

  1. Monkey Mama says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. This was a great post though.

    Disability insurance, GOOD health insurance, life insurance, wills, POAs, and emergency funds are important to put in place when you are healthy and life is going well. These things can at least help lessen the blow. As you mentioned, there was a lot of costs to consider beyond simply medical costs.

  2. nance says:

    I’m sorry you and your family had to go through this, but glad that they were prepared.
    Your message will probably encourage many people to get ready for the unknown.

  3. shawn says:

    Im sorry, I hope your family can go thorough this.

  4. Jackie says:

    Excellent post, wonderful advice for all people to keep in mind just in case the unthinkable happens.

    I’m the youngest at 31, but I still don’t really think of my parents as getting older. This last summer, my mother went down to the bank and had my oldest sister and I given permission to access their accounts in an emergency. This way we can pay bills for them if anything catastrophic happened to place them both in the hospital at the same time. It really brought home to me that we’re all getting older and even though they’re in good health, we still have to think about these things.

  5. asmom says:

    You forgot one crucial aspect of keeping down healthcare costs: health maintenance and regular check-ups. You wouldn’t believe how many people do not follow-up with regular healthcare and doctor’s recommendations for testing and prevention. They usually end up in the hospital when it could have been prevented. Just another way to look at things.

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