Don’t be afraid to discuss money with your health care provider

Money is not a topic that health care providers and patients often discuss.  But health care providers need to know as much as possible about you to plan for your best medical care.  How able you are to afford health care related expenses, without causing a major impact on your life, is important for your provider to know. Realistic solutions to problems often depend on economics. Both consumers and providers are not happy about rising medical costs.  Health insurance coverage changes more frequently, and it is becoming harder and harder to feel secure about how you’ll pay for future health care.  One way to feel more secure may be to try to become more comfortable starting a discussion about finances and asking your health care provider some important questions.

Why can it sometimes be hard to talk about money or medical costs?

You may not feel comfortable raising the topic of medical costs or financial problems.  There are many possible reasons for this. You may feel that:

  • It is taboo: You were taught that talking about money is impolite or “just not done”.
  • It is embarrassing: Talking about money embarrasses you.
  • It is humiliating: It doesn’t feel good to say that you worry about money or have financial problems.
  • You have too much self-esteem: You want to feel good about yourself and present yourself in a positive light to your health care provider.

If you recognize some of your feelings in this list you may want to practice learning a new skill of discussing your ‘financial state of being’ with your health care provider.

What are the potential benefits of discussing your finances and medical costs with your health care provider?

  • The most important reason to talk about finances is that this makes it easier to have a full discussion about the best way to proceed with your care.
  • It opens the door for a discussion about prescription medication options, including use of a generic medication, or a referral to one of the many prescription assistance programs offered by pharmaceutical companies.
  • It reminds your health care provider to alert you when you have choices to make about further treatment.
  • Sometimes there may be a chance to “shop around”. Pharmacies for example, may have different prices for medications.
  • You may discover that your health care provider is aware of resources that may help you, if they knew that there was a problem.

Here is an example.  A health care provider was concerned that his patient wasn’t having the monthly blood tests he had ordered.  When told that the patient lived 100 miles away, and could not afford the bus fare, he said she could go to a laboratory near her home.

Practice

Now that you have decided to be more open about financial concerns, what do you actually say?  Try some of these ideas and see if they might work for you.

  1. If finances are an issue bring, it up and make it a topic of discussion.  “I want you to know that I’ve been out of work for a year and I’m having a hard time financially.”
  2. Ask, “What will this prescription cost, and if it is high, is there is a less expensive choice?”
  3. Question, “Since I ‘m trying this medication for the first time, can I start with a small prescription, so if they don’t work for me, I won’t throw away a lot of expensive pills?”
  4. Tell your provider, “I don’t know what my health insurance will be in the future, so please keep this in mind when you suggest tests or procedures or a switch to a new medication”.

Communication is the key to true collaboration so everybody understands the facts!

References

National Institute on Aging.  Talking with your doctor: Guide for older people.  Retrieved from: http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/TalkingWithYourDoctor/
Kalyn, W. Downsize your doctor visit: 7 ways to lower the cost of the trip to your doc. Arthritis Foundation, Arthritis Today. Retrieved from: http://www.arthritistoday.org/daily-living/consumer-guide-to-health-care/downsize-doctor-visit.php