Financial management during a child’s health care issues

Today’s guest blogger Peggy Dolan is the Founder and Executive Director of the Kelly Anne Dolan Memorial Fund, an Ambler, PA-based nonprofit that advocates on behalf of and provides financial assistance to families whose children are seriously ill, physically and cognitively challenged, or severely injured.

Expenses can add up quickly for families dealing with a life threatening illness of a child. Parents generally realize early on that extensive medical bills and other out-of-pocket costs impact their ability to keep up with everyday household bills like utilities and rent.

At the Kelly Anne Dolan Memorial Fund, we advocate for families who are struggling to make ends meet due to a serious, life threatening diagnosis of one or more children. The added expenses for parents of sick children - such as job loss in order to be with a sick child, childcare cost for siblings, or tutoring for a hospitalized child who is unable to attend school - are often overlooked.

The stories we hear are heartbreaking, such as a father who recently contacted us because he was unable to provide heat for his home. He had used all of the family’s spending money on gas to drive his wife and two daughters to frequent specialist visits to treat a rare disorder called Fabray Disease. One of the symptoms is the inability to regulate body temperature, which causes high fevers and hearing loss, and requires the family to keep their home heated at all times. The Fund was able to help by donating money to fill the family’s oil tank.

Unfortunately, this story is not a unique one. Overwhelmed and emotionally drained parents can easily begin to lose ground with the payment of necessary bills, and consequently, delinquency and late payments lead to bad credit reports, loss of services, homes and confidence.

There are ways for parents to avoid financial losses and the long-term negative impact on credit ratings if care is taken early and the following adhered to:

Know and understand your health plan: From the plan design to which doctors and hospitals are in your network, contact your benefits manager at your place of work or call your insurance company’s member services line to learn the ins and outs so you understand exactly what is and isn’t covered.

Locate resources that can help: Most hospitals have a business office or case manager who can help you set up realistic payment plans, negotiate fees, and walk you through the payment process.

Get organized: Keep receipts for every related expense as they can often be written off when it comes time to do your taxes. Keep home, medical, and out-of-pocket records in separate folders at home so that each category feels less overwhelming. Bring a notebook to every visit and keep track of what physicians your child saw, what treatments were administered, and other details.

Know your rights:  Appeal if the insurance company denies coverage for a service or visit. Often if you do that, together with your doctor, they will reconsider and overturn the charge. Contact your state department of insurance if you run into problems with your insurance company.

Stay ahead of debt: Contact lenders and creditors early in the process if you are going to be making a late payment, and stay in continuous contact with them. If it’s becoming difficult to pay bills, send a letter to your creditors or utility providers from your child’s physician and/or social worker explaining the circumstances so you can buy time and hopefully, get an extension. Do your best to pay something on each bill, each month – even if it’s just a small amount toward the balance owed.

Ask for help: Accept the help that is offered by family and friends. Be humble – don’t let your pride get in the way. Reach out to disease or disability related organizations, charities, civic groups, government organizations, and churches that may be able to provide assistance in the form of donations.