There it is, in black and white. It’s a word that some may shirk from, as it carries with it a number of preconceptions – many of them erroneous. One in five Americans – that’s approximately 53 million adults – are currently living with some kind of disability. If you’re reading this, it’s more than likely that you are one of them. Hopefully, these numbers will help assure you that you are far from alone.
Maybe it’s down to an aging population. No matter how carefully you have looked after your fitness – and according to the reputable Journal of the American Medical Association, we are living healthier than ever before – unavoidable rack and ruin may eventually lay claim to any human body, often without warning.
Of course, there are still steps that can be taken to avoid aggravating poor health, but more and more of us are living with the consequences of illness and disability, along with our friends, family and neighbors. With this comes the additional pressure and worry of sustaining a lifestyle, in particular the financial difficulties that may occur when one is forced to juggle the cost of housing with extensive medical bills.
Thankfully, there is a light at the end of this particular tunnel. While diagnoses of chronic disease remain on the rise throughout the nation, advances in science and social care ensure that these protracted ailments no longer need to be fatal. In fact, given the rise of the Affordable Care Act (also referred to as ObamaCare), more disabled Americans than ever before are finding themselves able to obtain the financial help and assistance that they need to enjoy a fulfilling life.
Let’s assume that you have been registered disabled due to injury or illness, and now you are starting to worry about losing your home. The first, and arguably most important, thing to remember and understand is that you are not alone. You’re one of 53 million, remember? This means that many have experienced this testing time for themselves, and steps are in place to guide you through the process.
Assuming that you have already registered yourself as disabled (if you have not done so, head to the Department of Social Security at your earliest convenience), check your eligibility for benefits. Registering here will ensure that you are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and will provide you with many more options. Being officially recognized as living with a disability also greatly enhances your chances of obtaining a swift and positive result from any relevant insurers, leaving less room for discretionary decision-making.
Being officially recognized as living with a disability also greatly enhances your chances of obtaining a swift and positive result from any relevant insurers, leaving less room for discretionary decision-making.
Check Your Insurance Policy If You Have One
If you do hold an existing private health insurance policy, the first thing that anybody troubled by a debilitating disease needs to do is assess it and review just how helpful it may or may not be.
It is of paramount importance that you keep your insurance paperwork updated, and keep your private insurers informed of your condition, regardless of whether it changes. The first step for anybody registered as disabled is to find out exactly what their insurance will cover. Each policy from every provider differs, and it may take some substantial effort to uncover what exactly your entitlement is.
For example, some insurers will cover a full salary shortfall indefinitely in the event of the policyholder being unable to work, others just a percentage. Some policies will apply to terminal illnesses only, while others will have a unique definition of chronic illness.
If you are looking to change your private health insurer, shop around and read the fine print very carefully to ensure you make the correct decision – the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants may be able to help with that – and above all, be honest and up-front from the very beginning. You will find that an insurance policy is little help if you reveal elements of your lifestyle, such as tobacco use or alcohol intake, upon making a claim that was withheld when the policy was opened.
What if I don’t have Insurance?
Of course, not everybody holds private healthcare insurance, which adds to the worry. Chronic illness is an expensive business, and some unfortunate patients struggle to maintain payments on their homes in addition to medical bills, especially when faced with the risk of losing their primary source of income when unable to work.
This means that financial planning is arguably the most essential element of any disabled American’s life. You will need to budget, budget and budget some more, leaving as little as possible to chance. The wrong unexpected bill could be the difference between maintaining and foreclosing on your property, so wherever possible leave some extra aside from unwelcome surprises such as increases in medication costs or the requirement of additional services.
Macmillan Cancer, a UK-based charity that have been assisting people through illness for over ten decades, have a hugely helpful financial support guide that will provide an invaluable template for anyone facing this daunting task, while The Visiting Nurses Association of America should be able to shine a light on whether your condition will incur the expense of homecare bills.
Of course, budgeting is only part of the challenge. You can only plan your spending if you have the funds in place, it’s quite possible that disability will prevent you from working, leaving you with little to no income. You may still be eligible to work while claiming disability benefit, if you enter a trial work program (this is known as engaging in substantial gainful activity). Obviously, this depends very much on the severity and symptoms of your condition. Even if you feel that you have no choice but to continue working, you may be surprised. There are many paths available to you that should prevent drastic action such as selling a property.
Medicaid, Medicare and Medigap
A popular and useful resource for uninsured Americans that experience health concerns is the Medicaid program, an alternative to private health insurance. Not everybody is eligible for Medicaid, especially as not every state has yet rolled out the system, but the service is targeted towards the disabled and those living below the poverty line, so it may prove to be a hugely beneficial proposition.
Medicaid can be applied for any time online by any individual earning less than $16,243 per year, or a family household of four people that earns below a threshold of $33,465. It’s quick and easy to check your eligibility, and even if you do not qualify for Medicaid for any reason, you may be able to find low-cost medical assistance at a Community Health Center.
Alternatively, if you are over 65 years of age (or younger and registered as disabled with a chronic illness and thus unfit to work), you could also apply for a service called Medicare. Medicare is another government initiative devised with the retired population in mind, and the program also offers a supplementary service known as Medigap, which may assist with services that Medicare does not, such as international healthcare bills for any medical attention required while travelling overseas. Medicare can also be applied for online in less than ten minutes.
Should you find yourself unwilling or ineligible for state-sponsored assistance, another increasingly popular option for generating revenue in such circumstances is Crowdfunding. More and more people are turning to sites such as Watsi in an attempt at raising the appropriate resources for their medical bills, and there are encouraging success stories to be found online. This is potentially a useful Plan B too, should you find that your condition continues to deteriorate and your initial math is coming up short.
Try Negotiating Your Medical Bills
Of course, this is all assuming that you accept your medical bills at face value. You may be surprised to learn that these charges can be negotiated, especially if you are experiencing financial difficulty.
If you’re struggling to keep up the payments on your home and/or medical expenses, prioritize your rent or mortgage payments, then contact your healthcare service and outline your situation to them, including a suggestion of a solution. Template letters of hardship can be found online, and are well worth investigating – adding anxiety and stress to an already full plate of health concerns does not benefit anybody.
A Few Final Thoughts
The government is also dedicated to helping homeowners avoid being forced to foreclose on their property, with a number of steps in place to advise anybody feeling the pinch. The Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives Program (HAFA) will also assistance to those in need if applicable (as always, eligibility is just an online check away – typically, it will depend on whether your purchased your home before 2009, your owing up to $729, 750, and whether your mortgage broker participates in the scheme) which could help you balance your checkbook a little easier. Equally, if you’ve found that you’ve racked up your credit card bills in an attempt at keeping your head above water, you could also look into the possible of a Debt Management Plan.
That doesn’t necessarily mean bankruptcy – that’s very much the last straw – but potentially a way of reducing your monthly outgoings to a more manageable amount that helps you sleep a little easier at night. All of these options can be investigated with no commitment, and all are designed to ensure that poor physical health does not need to leave to problems with accommodation.
Following the steps outlined in this guide may just be the difference between maintaining control of your own home, or even purchasing a new one, even if ill health and disability have taken their toll. We are living longer as a nation, and we’re surviving chronic illness with higher success rates than ever before. Although this can be an undeniably frightening time, with each a wealth of information available online for just about any condition you can imagine, the help is out there for each and every one of us if we only look.