Managing medical emergencies when you don’t have money
Most people don’t like to think about medical emergencies and as a result can find themselves financially unprepared, even if they have medical aid.
By definition emergencies are unexpected. They upset daily life and cause stress and unless you can finance the medical emergency, often have financial implications. Medical emergencies also usually include a strong emotional aspect, which can significantly affect decision making, and they have to be dealt with immediately.
Nobody wants a loved one to be ill, hurt or in pain and will want do what it takes to get the treatment and care they need, but this can be very expensive.
In an ideal world everyone would put some money into an emergency account each month and only use it when there really is an emergency.
Most people don’t do this because the daily cost of living means they can’t afford it or they’ve decided to live in the here and now rather than save for what may happen. Others do put money away, but then spend it on a holiday or something else that’s not an emergency.
This means when a medical emergency happens your options may be limited to what you can afford rather than getting the best treatment, even if you have medical aid or a hospital plan.
Medical scheme companies pay out at fixed rates. Surgeons and other specialists often charge higher tariffs. This means you have to pick up the shortfall.
Other costs which can quickly mount up are specialised care, medical transportation, rehabilitation and charges for equipment such as wheelchairs or other mobility devices.
If you don’t have any emergency savings one way to pay the difference between what the medical aid will pay and the actual costs is to take out a medical loan.
As long as you can meet the requirements in the National Credit Act, the application process is usually straightforward and can be done telephonically or online. Once approved, the money can be available within 24 hours.
A loan may ensure that you or a loved one can get the medical care and treatment you need, but you should still try to manage the costs.
Ideally find out what the medical aid will pay for and how much before undergoing treatment. Don’t make assumptions or be afraid to ask the doctor or specialist if there are any other costs you need to be aware of.
Before agreeing to surgery or other expensive treatment make sure the surgeon and any other specialists are aware of your financial situation and what your medical aid will and won’t cover.
Keep all the medical bills and receipts and make sure there are no duplicate charges or invoices for services that are not performed. Then check that you’re only paying for what the medical aid or hospital plan does not cover. Some practices do not submit invoices to the medical aid on your behalf.
If you’re in doubt as to whether something is covered, ask. It’s better to find out than pay for something which the medical aid might have paid a proportion of or even fully settled.
It is also a good idea to review your medical cover, depending on your health needs. It might be worth choosing a plan with a slightly higher premium, but which affords you more cover.