Getting Some Assistance

Michelle's daughter was treated in a hospital ICU, but Michelle and her husband didn't have medical insurance. They now owe $25,000. They've been offered an assistance program. Should they pursue this option?

QUESTION: Michelle in Los Angeles is calling because her daughter traveled to Iowa this summer and had an asthma attack there. She went to the hospital and was treated in ICU for three days, but Michelle and her husband didn’t have medical insurance. They now owe $25,000. They’ve been offered an assistance program. Should they pursue this option?

ANSWER: I’m not familiar with this particular assistance program either, in terms of what they do. If they do offer assistance, I don’t have any problem with that. But learn about what it is and make sure that it’s something that’s good for you.

It sounds like the hospital may have a sliding scale based on income or something for the uninsured. To talk to them about that and learn from that is good. Based on your income, maybe they’ll lower your bill from $25,000 to $12,000 and then you agree to pay $500 a month for two years or something, which would certainly be doable and fair because they took care of your daughter.

The other thing I suggest is that you get health insurance today. The big thing is this: Carry a big deductible. Even if you had a $5,000 deductible, you’d be $20,000 ahead right now. A big deductible, even if you don’t have the money saved for it, is good.

We don’t really carry health insurance for a loose tooth. We carry it for the big stuff like the ICU stay. That big stuff is what will take you down. I’m not sure about California’s Blue Cross because it changes from state to state as to their quality. Some of them are lousy and some of them are excellent. They are not perfect, but they do a pretty good job. Most of the time they listen and they care and we can work with them.

You choosing to not have health insurance leaves your family open to bankruptcy. That’s a choice you don’t want to make. You cannot afford to carry the potential for the financial hit. It’s not a philosophical thing; it’s just a common-sense thing.