It is no surprise that seeing 10 different doctors on a regular basis is an expensive affair. My medical bills add up to a thousand dollars per month on average. This excludes the occasional surgery or experimental treatment. Let’s do a quick breakdown, before going on to the most important point.
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Doctor Consultation Fees
This is the least of our worries, as the government covers most of the bill unless you see a private doctor. The problem with public healthcare is, as always, the long waiting list. Sometimes you have no choice but to visit a private doctor, as you do not have the luxury of time to gamble with your health. Unfortunately, you can’t go back to public rates once you go private.
Most people get their blood checked on an annual basis to ensure that all is well. For people with chronic illnesses, we need to get this done on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. Some of the extra tests ordered are highly specific as well, which tend to cost more. We also undergo scans such as MRIs or echocardiograms on a frequent basis, and these cost a few hundred dollars per pop.
This is actually the biggest liability for me every month, and cost more than all the food I consume. For one, the medications we need as a chronic illness person are non-standard, which tend to to be high cost.
I was on the maximum dose of cyclosporine at one point (which didn’t work by the way), and that drug alone costed a thousand dollars per month. I’m back on it now.
According to the pharmacist who dispensed my medication, the government does not subsidise these non-standard drugs as they are too expensive. They do however, subsidise medications that cost me a grand total of $4 per month.
Insurance and Medishield Life Plan
I am glad that my mother purchased insurance for me before the discovery of my many illnesses. However, my plan only helps with covering some of the inpatient costs. My total outpatient and medication allowance per year is $500. This isn’t even enough to cover a single month.
The government also rolled out a Medishield Life plan this year. This aims to relieve some of the financial burdens of a chronic illness patient, by allowing them to use more of their own money in their Medisave. This covers my outpatient costs for epilepsy but not my Lupus, Sjögren’s or Antiphospholipid Syndrome, which is strange as these are as chronic a disease as you can get.
I contacted the Medishield Life department to obtain more information about this issue. After a month of generic responses, they referred me to the Ministry of Health, who also took a while to get back to me. It seems that Medishield life is more for inpatient stays when it concerns illnesses such as Lupus. As for outpatient matters, the typical response here is, ‘it is what it is’.
Here’s another catch – I do not have much savings in my Medisave at all, due to my inability to hold down a full time job which contributes to it. Which leads me to my most important point…
Inability to Work is the Biggest Financial Burden
More often than not, it isn’t because we don’t have the skills or willingness to earn the money needed to cover our medical bills. Given a functioning body, we could work hard enough to handle the financial burden. But it is more of the inability to even get up to go to work. All the chances that we do not have, to work as hard as we would like. We are often bedridden for weeks, months or even years. Even if we are looking and feeling fine, stress is often the biggest trigger of flare ups. The inevitable stress that comes with work, thus drives an endless cycle of pain and yet more bills to pay.
It goes like this: “Wow I’m finally feeling better these days, let’s start working again!” After a few months, my body starts to break down all over again, and my medications go up. Inflammation levels rise and trigger angry immune responses in random body parts. I am forced to take a break from work again, while I recover and scurry off for yet more tests and appointments. All the money I have earned during this period goes to the hospital.
How I’ve Learned to Cope With it
No man is an island, and a chronic illness person isn’t one for sure. I have learned to accept financial and physical aid from family, friends or even strangers. Sometimes you just don’t have a choice, especially when faced with the very real possibility of death.
Some people have said to me that they will never accept money from others. Some are aggressive and even equate it to begging. These comments are especially hurtful when coming from the mouth of family members. Having given it some thought, I think it is alright for anyone – sick or healthy – to receive help in any form if it is a true need.
Even if we can handle life all alone, these thoughtful acts are what make it meaningful and beautiful. It doesn’t even have to be a material generosity; a simple acknowledgement of understanding goes a long way. There are also many ways we can repay these acts of kindness. And at the end of the day health always trumps wealth; money is inconsequential when pain has broken your body, or when faced with impending death.
The groundwork of all happiness is health. – Leigh Hunt
The foundation of success in life is good health: that is the substratum fortune; it is also the basis of happiness. A person cannot accumulate a fortune very well when he is sick. – P. T. Barnum
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