8 Medical Conditions That Could Bankrupt You
Sometimes, even more frightening than being diagnosed with a chronic health condition is how you'll pay for treatment. These are the conditions with the biggest price tag.
As if being diagnosed with a serious health issue wasn’t overwhelming and stressful enough, then come the medical bills. Sometimes the expenses associated with doctor visits, treatments and medication — not to mention the cost of taking time off work — can be crippling. A 2014 study published in Maine Law Review found that medical debt causes between 18 and 26 percent of all bankruptcies.
Many of the illnesses that come with a huge financial burden are chronic conditions, which require ongoing care versus a one-and-done surgery, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here’s the bright side: Chronic diseases also happen to be the most preventable. Take a look at eight medical conditions with steep price tags attached to their treatments, (but also keep in mind that the cost associated with treatments may be significantly lower when insurance is factored in).
1. Heart Conditions
Heart conditions, including stroke, heart attack and high blood pressure, are high on the list of costly medical conditions. The CDC says in 2012 and 2013 that people in the United States spent an average of $316.1 billion a year as a result of cardiovascular disease.
Different treatments come with different costs. For example, an out-of-pocket estimate for coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) costs roughly $151,271, though the price ranged from $44,824 to $448,038 at the 53 hospitals included in a 2016 study published in The American Journal of Cardiology. To keep your heart healthy, the American Heart Association recommends living a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating a nutritious diet, getting plenty of exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking.
The exact price of treatment varies widely based on the type of cancer and its progression, with an eight-week chemotherapy treatment costing anywhere from $100 to $30,000. David Belk, M.D., who runs the website TrueCostOfHealthcare.org, says one of the costliest types of cancer is chronic myeloid leukemia, which starts in the bone marrow. There’s no cure for it, but it “can be suppressed indefinitely with a medication called Gleevec (imatinib),” Dr. Belk says. In 2015, Gleevec cost more than $120,000 per year, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Oncology Practice.
Multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells, is another expensive one. Dr. Belk says people with this cancer can live for more than five years if they take a drug called Revlimid (lenalidomide), which can cost nearly $20,000 a month. There are many organizations that provide assistance, both financial and otherwise, for cancer patients, including Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition and local American Cancer Society chapters. To lower your risk of cancer, maintain a healthy weight, avoid chemicals and hormone treatments that have been shown to increase cancer risk and drink alcohol in moderation.
3. Kidney Disease
When the kidneys have lost about 90 percent of their functioning, many patients will start dialysis. Hemodialysis, which involves using an artificial kidney to remove waste from the body, takes about four hours and needs to be completed three times per week. It’s expensive, costing about $90,000 per year per patient. A kidney transplant, should one be needed, costs about $32,000, plus $25,000 per year after the surgery has been completed.
The government, state Medicaid programs and private health insurance help with costs. There are also organizations that help: The American Kidney Fund provides need-based grants to people in need of dialysis or a transplant, and the National Kidney Foundation helps with things like medication and transportation. The biggest risk factors for developing kidney issues are high blood pressure, diabetes and a history of kidney disease in the family.
4. Type 2 Diabetes
About $245 billion is spent in the United States each year on diabetes, according to the CDC. On an individual level, diabetes treatment costs roughly $13,500 a year, which is more than double what someone without diabetes could expect to pay annually in health care costs. That might not seem like all that much compared to other conditions on this list, but it adds up when you consider that someone could live for decades with Type 2 diabetes if it’s managed effectively.
And costs are rising. A study published in 2013 in JAMA found the costs associated with diabetes are growing 36 times faster than costs linked to ischemic heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S. Some organizations do offer financial relief, such as drug companies that have patient assistance programs and doctor’s offices that provide free samples to those in need.
Read more: 18 Famous People With Diabetes
Lupus, an autoimmune disease that mainly affects women, comes with an average yearly health care cost of roughly $12,500, plus nearly $9,000 of lost productivity. Those figures can be much higher for people who require medicine to be infused, which might be needed monthly or every few months, says Dr. Belk. One such treatment called belimumab costs about $35,000 per year, according to a 2012 study published in Pharmacy and Therapeutics. The drug manufacturer offers a patient assistance program to give people in need the medication at little to no cost.
Treating rheumatoid arthritis can cost as much as $30,000 per year. While most people don’t start showing symptoms until they reach their 60s, some are affected as early as age 30, which means sky-high medical bills for most of their adulthood. Examples of expensive treatments include biologics, which can cost anywhere from $1,300 to $3,000 a month, and knee-replacement surgery, which costs an average of nearly $50,000.
Joint-replacement surgeries are also on the rise: They tripled between 1993 and 2009, partially due to the rising obesity rates in the U.S., according to a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. Even if medical insurance covers most of the bill, people with arthritis still pay 30 percent or more of their medication costs. The Arthritis Foundation has a helpful list of organizations that may help pay for medications and surgery.
Many of the costs related to treating dementia aren’t strictly for medical bills and medications. Rather, they’re for long-term care, such as nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. According to a 2013 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the average cost someone with dementia will pay over the course of the year is between $41,689 and $56,290.
During a person’s final five years of life, he or she might spend more than $250,000 on health care, which is more than 50 percent higher than what’d you’d expect with other diseases like heart disease and cancer. Researchers haven’t pinpointed exactly why some people get dementia and others don’t. They do suspect, however, that diet, exercise and strong social connections play a role in minimizing risk, while high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Obesity is costly in two ways. First, the medical costs linked to obesity and treating the conditions that typically go along with it, such as diabetes and coronary artery disease, are high. People with obesity paid $1,429 more in health care in 2006 than lower-weight people. Bariatric surgery, which is the gold standard in treating severe obesity, costs roughly $15,000, according to a 2017 study published in Obesity Surgery.
And the second reason obesity is so expensive: There are many indirect costs, such as lost wages and increased insurance premiums. There are some organizations that help fund these costs. Grants are available, for instance, through the Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America, for those who have been medically approved for surgery but have been denied for financial reasons.
What Do YOU Think?
Have you had to deal with shockingly high medical bills? What condition was being treated? Did you ever worry the bills would force you to file bankruptcy? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.