By Alessandra Malito
My husband works for the county making approximately $55,000 a year but before that was in retail with earnings of only about $36,000. In 1996, our daughter was diagnosed with a life threatening incurable autoimmune disease just as he had changed jobs, thus no insurance. We had to go into debt of several thousand dollars before we could get any help.
Then by the time she was 18 and got disability, I began having symptoms, diagnosed with several overlapping incurable diagnoses in my 40s. I’m now 60, my husband is 64. We live alone, own our own house which is almost paid off, have a 401(k) and two other retirement accounts but not a great deal saved considering.
We save every penny we can but medical bills, medications never end. How can anyone prepare or save with all this going on?
My husband plans to work until he drops dead or they make him retire! What choice is there?
And to think, for about the first 15 years of our life we thought we were healthy, and then all of a sudden life for us all changed forever.
I’m so sorry to hear of your stressful situation. You’re so right, something like a diagnosis can come about unexpectedly, when everyone thinks all is well and fine. It is wonderful to hear that you have a home you’re almost done paying off and have some retirement accounts, even if it isn’t enough for you both right now.
The situation you’re in sounds very overwhelming, but know that you are not alone. So many Americans – especially in the last two years during the pandemic – have been thrust into a similar scenario as you, where they were making ends meet and suddenly were thrown into a tailspin because of an illness, a loved one’s illness, a lost job and so on.
Even still, it’s possible to plan and prepare for retirement. It will take a lot of work, it may even be emotional, but it’s possible – and you can do it.
First, just like with any other goal or major life event, there needs to be a full assessment of cash flow and assets. Look over what accounts and debts you currently have, how much money comes in, how much you absolutely need to spend, and all of the money that goes out. Think about what anticipated income sources you may have in retirement, such as Social Security benefits, any pensions, and what your withdrawals could be at the minimum from your retirement accounts.
“A lot of folks get really overwhelmed and try to do a lot of math in their head,” said Morgan Hill, chief executive officer of Hill and Hill Financial. He suggests having a written plan and also making projections for the future. “What I find is this gives some sense of hope.” Not only does this exercise give you a clear view of your financial picture, but it can also spark some ideas for how to make more cash or pay down debts.
Now, on to the medical bills specifically. First, review every single bill you receive – sometimes there can be mistakes. Then, and you may know this already but it is worth saying for those who do not, try to have those balances lowered.
Medical bills, unlike most other types of debt, can be negotiated, and hospitals and other medical facilities may be willing to work with patients on a repayment plan. Whether you’re talking to your insurance company, your doctor’s office or the medical institution you received a procedure, be honest about what you are able to afford.
Also, research what that medical service actually costs – you can use Healthcare Bluebook or FAIR Health , two databases, as well as Medicare.gov , to look up prices for those services in your location. The same is true of medications – you can use databases like GoodRx and SingleCare to compare drug prices. These websites provide transparency and a leg up in negotiations if you’re being overcharged.
Want more actionable tips for your retirement savings journey? Read MarketWatch’s “Retirement Hacks” column