The Bill You Didn't Ask For
As someone who grew up in a working-class home, I’ve always been highly conscious of money and spending. As a graduate student, my attention to money has continued to be essential since most graduate students (myself included!) are paid only a small stipend. All my careful planning and spending fell by the wayside when I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, though.
Endless medical bills for UC and Crohn's
Living in the United States, even with insurance, a chronic condition like UC or Crohn's can be a big shock to your wallet. I certainly experienced this as I went from being a perfectly healthy 25-year-old to someone who now needed numerous tests, regular blood work and check-ups, and several medications.
The most careful planning couldn’t help me anticipate this. Being hit with a large healthcare bill and expensive medications felt so unfair on top of the already unfair situation of being diagnosed with a chronic condition at all at a young age.
I am incredibly lucky to now have a decent insurance plan. At other times in my life, including when my symptoms first emerged, I was not so lucky and did not have insurance coverage at all. Those first bills from my diagnostic process were scary to receive, and I spent a couple of years paying them off. So many people with this disease find themselves in a similar or worse position, and it can be lonely and isolating.
Financial burden of chronic illness
Financial troubles are often a taboo topic of conversation, and the mental and emotional toll of surprise hospital bills can be large. From anxiety about how I could pay these bills while also paying for all my usual life expenses on a small stipend, to depression at seeing my hard-earned savings dwindle, I was greatly affected by the financial burden of my illness.
No one could solve this for me, and I spent many days and nights suffering in silence because I was uncomfortable talking about my financial worries with others.
Taking control and letting it out
What helped me eventually feel a greater sense of control was taking action in the ways that I could. First, I contacted the hospital to set up a reasonable payment plan. Even when all I wanted was to ignore the bills, I knew I couldn’t do that. I also pushed myself out of my isolation and talked with others who I knew had chronic illnesses and would be validating.
We vented about ridiculous medication prices, and I felt a tiny bit better after each conversation. I adjusted my budget (to the extent I could) to account for my new medical expenses. This helped me feel like I could manage, even if it meant cutting back on other things I wanted. Finally, I asked for help in other areas of my life to reduce stress.
Advocating for myself as a UC patient
As I’ve become more used to the medical system, I’ve become a stronger advocate for myself and have sought out resources, like patient programs that help pay for prescriptions. I’ve also gotten better at being honest with my doctors about my financial situation so that they can inform me of relevant resources that I may not be aware of.
Unfortunately, these aren’t foolproof solutions, and expenses can still stack up too high to manage. At those times, we all need someone who understands and will give us time to vent, cry, or be angry!
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