On the big screen, heart attacks tend to favor older men. But in real life, more and more young people, especially women, are having them. And they come with costs that many just can’t afford.
New research from the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation showed a 10-percentage-point jump in heart attacks among young women from 1995 to 2014, suggesting a growing problem of poor lifestyle habits like unhealthy diets and lack of exercise.
But beyond the health effects, heart attack recovery and treatment deals a big financial blow. For those with health insurance, the out-of-pocket costs of a heart attack hospitalization hover around $1,600. If you’re without health insurance, you can expect medical bills over $50,000 following a heart attack, says the American Heart Association. But the costs don’t stop there.
Why the Sky-High Price Tag?
Care for a myocardial infarction (the medical term for heart attack) isn’t a “fix it and forget it” situation. Rather, it’s a complex and long-term process that involves many specialists, visits, treatments and follow-ups. In fact, treating problems like heart attacks that derive from heart disease costs more than any other health problem, including diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
But there are opportunity costs of heart attack recovery, too. After all, a heart attack is a major, life-changing medical event; you can’t expect to just bounce back from it. So naturally, many people have some dips in their productivity — either at work (leading to unpaid days off) or at home (leading to things like paying for lawn care or house cleaning).
Meanwhile, life hums along, and so do its costs: Rent is still due. Mouths need to be fed. And the gas tank needs filling — all while medical bills pile up on the kitchen table. Given all this, it’s no surprise that about 20% of insured adults have trouble paying their medical bills.
A Hypothetical Example
Say you’re a 35-year-old woman who collapses at a friend’s birthday party. Your friends dial 911, and the ambulance takes you to the nearest hospital, where you’re admitted for five days.
Within minutes, you reach your insurance’s $1,000 deductible, which means your plan starts to cover a percentage of your costs, thanks to coinsurance. The next six months involve a series of other out-of-pocket costs, from multiple trips to the pharmacy and imaging center to follow-ups with cardiologists and two rounds of cardiac rehab.
Your doctor emphasizes that you need to keep an eye on your stress levels, so you decide to cut your hours at work from full time to part time — but less work means less pay, and your savings is shrinking. Your in-laws have thoughtfully helped out, but it’s difficult to take their money, and even more difficult to admit that you need it.
Enter Supplemental Insurance
For everyone — but especially younger folks with smaller savings — supplemental plans like critical illness insurance can help. These policies dole out lump sum benefits for designated health issues like a heart attack or cancer.
If you, the 35-year-old hypothetical patient, had purchased critical illness insurance before your collapse, you might have been able to start the claims process as soon as you left the hospital. Some policies pay a cash sum up to $20,000 (or more) for a heart attack, with recurrence benefits if you unfortunately get another heart attack down the road. To be clear, that’s a check made out to your name that you can use in whatever way you like, from paying hospital bills to putting food on the table.
In many cases, that check might cover the full costs of your heart attack recovery, or at least a big chunk of it. And if there’s any left over, it’s yours to keep, no strings attached. Of course, nobody would ever ask for a heart attack — young or old, man or woman — but if it happens, you’ll want to focus on getting better, not stressing about the costs.
So consider adding a supplemental plan to your insurance portfolio. Let’s hope you never need it, but if you do, you’ll certainly be glad you have it.