While anyone can suffer from a stroke, heart attack or cancer at any time, those who smoke, are over weight or have a parent/sibling who has already suffered from one of these conditions are at a higher risk.
In this lesson, I want to discuss what these diseases are, your odds of being diagnosed with one and what your financial options are if you are diagnosed.
According to the Book of Odds, 1 in 40.32 Baby Boomers, ages 55-64 have had a stroke. Those odds increase drastically as we age. Americans who are 75-84 have a 1 in 6.06 chance of suffering from a stroke.
I tried to find a simple way to describe stroke but found no better one than what was on the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s website, “A stroke happens when blood flow to a part of the brain stops.”
Strokes can be cause either by a clot preventing blood from reaching an area of the brain or a traumatic bursting of an artery to the brain that floods it with blood.
Strokes caused by clots are called, “Ischemic”, “Embolic” or “Thrombolic” depending on where the clot is. Strokes caused by the bursting of a blood vessel in the brain are called,”Hemorraghic.”
There is absolutely no way to predict what damage a stroke may cause. A couple of years ago, my 80-year-old mother suffered a mild stroke. It cost Medicare a couple of nights in the hospital for “observation” but that was about all. Mom had to pay Medicare’s Part A deductible for her hospital stay and her 20% of doctor’s fees for observation. She also had to subscribe to a monitoring service. Today she wears a necklace with a panic button in case she suffers another stroke and needs medical attention. After all the medical bills were paid, the financial cost for her stroke was less than $2500. The only on-going bill she has is for the monitoring service.
Not everybody who suffers a stroke is a fortunate as mom. The damage that a stroke can cause depends on which part of the brain is affected. Those who survive a stroke can suffer damage to their functional abilities. If a stroke occurs to a part of the brain that controls movement, a previously healthy person can be left fully or partially paralyzed. If that happens the relative small price-tag my mom had is not going to happen.
People who are left paralyzed, require Long Term Care. Neither Medicare nor Major Medical insurance will pay for someone to help them while a spouse or other family member is away. If they are not able to qualify for Medicaid, they will have to “spend down” their assets to pay for a Home Health Aide.
There are some things that you can do to lower your risk of suffering from a stroke and some risks that you have little-to-no control over.
Risks that you can control include…
- High Blood Pressure
- Atrial Fibrillation
- High Cholesterol
- Circulation Problems
- Tobacco Use and Smoking
- Alcohol Use
- Physical Inactivity
- Family History
- Previous Stroke or TIA
- Fibromuscular Dysplasia
- Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO or Hole in the Heart)
During WW I, my grandfather’s canteen was pierced by a bullet right before a mustard gas attack. He was able to get his gas mask on before the cloud arrived but after the “all-clear” signal, he took a drink from his compromised canteen. The mustard gas had gotten into his water. When he took a drink, he damaged his esophagus.
In 1968, after he had lived a long, fulfilling life, his experience in the trenches of France caught up with him. The mustard gas that he swallowed as a teenager caused lung cancer. The Kaiser was able to claim another victim. He died just a few months after he was diagnosed.
Today, cancer is one of the most feared medical conditions in our society. Great strides have been made to the search to cure cancer. A diagnosis of cancer is no longer an automatic death sentence. Although it is the number 2 cause of death in America, many cancers are survivable if they get medical attention early enough. Today, a female with breast cancer has an 89% chance of living at least 5 more years. A male, who has been treated for testicular cancer, has a 93% chance of surviving 20 additional years or more.
Unfortunately, the facts are not all positive. A person who is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer only has a 5% chance of surviving for 5 years or more.
A couple of years ago, 4 of my fiends and clients suffered from cancer. Ironically, 3 of them contacted me about the same condition. Even though they all lived in different areas of the nation and had different life-styles, they had developed tumors in their brains.
Fortunately, all 3 are still alive, although the lives they must live now are different than what they knew. Unfortunately, when they were facing their own mortality, all 3 of them had to worry about money. Each of them called me to see if there was any way to help pay the bills that their insurance did not.
Unfortunately, I was only able to give them a few ideas. The Insurance Barn works with insurance products. Unlike what politicians and the press think, private insurance companies are not “altruistic.” They provide a service for which they expect to be paid. Insurance companies do not just give money away to everyone. Before you can expect any financial assistance from an insurance company, you have to buy their insurance. Most insurance companies will gladly help their customers with their financial problems but only up to the point where they are obligated.
The people who called me had two major financial concerns. In both cases a small, inexpensive supplement to their Major Medical health insurance would have taken care of their needs. The problem was that by the time they learned of Critical Illness insurance, it was too late.
- How do I pay for these expensive cancer drugs? Not all, but many Major Medical policies have an annual limit of $5000 or less that they will pay for prescription drugs. In all 3 cases of brain cancer, the cancer drug that was used cost in excess of $10,000 for just one treatment. They were on their own to pay for anything above the $5000 limit for prescriptions for that drug any or other drugs they need for the rest of the year.
- While I am unable to work, how do I take care of my family? This second question is not of much interest to you if you are already retired. If, however, you are still required to show up at work in order to earn a living, the answer to this question is to have a good Disability Income policy to replace your income while you are recovering.
In 2007, heart problems killed 800,000 Americans. That is 33% of all the deaths in America during that year. Heart disease accounted for more deaths than cancer, accidents and HIV combined. Cardiovascular disease still causes more deaths in America than anything else.
According to the Book of Odds, men, age 50 and over, have a 1 in 1.93 chance of being diagnosed with a heart related problem at some point in their life. Before wives start bragging it is important to note that women are not exempt from heart problems. The odds of a female, over age 50, having heart problems is 1 in 2.55.
Preventing heart disease is important. We have all heard of what is required to prevent heart disease that we can control. Unfortunately, just like cancer and stoke, there are some variables that we are not able to control.
None of us can control who are parents and siblings are. If either of them suffered from heart disease, we are at a greater risk. Also, none of us had any control over when we were born. As the human body ages, the heart is one of the organs that can develop problems as we age.
Not everyone who has ever had a heart attack died. The earlier you get medical care for a heart attack, the greater your chances are of surviving. From an insurance point of view, the financial problems are not so much from people who died from a heart attack. Their families, especially for those who are enrolled in Medicare, typically only have to worry about the Medicare Part A deductible, Medicare Part B co-pay for the doctor’s services in the hospital and funeral expenses. All of those are generally less than $15,000. I know that is a lot of money but it could be drastically worse.
Those who survive a heart attack often have new expenses that they had not “planned on.” Those heart attack survivors who are relatively healthy often have to make changes in the following life habits…
- Weight Management
Those heart attack survivors who are not as lucky as some, have other things they must pay for before they recover enough to worry about life-style changes. Often people who have survived a heart attack must “rehab” in either a nursing home or require a Home Health Aide if they elect to “rehab” at home.
When that happens, Medicare may or may not pay for the expenses associated with a nursing home or Home Health Aide. If they are considered “medically necessary,” Medicare may help with the bills. If they are not determined to be “medically necessary” by Medicare, you will get no help from the government unless you are able to qualify for Medicaid in your state.
In the past the only option for those who wanted additional insurance protection for these 3 issues was to have a separate insurance policy for each condition. A few years ago these conditions were combined into one type of insurance plan. Several insurance companies offer Critical Illness insurance. Critical Illness insurance pays a lump sum of money if you are diagnosed with either of these 3 conditions.
Some plans offer coverage for additional conditions, like Alzheimer’s disease, paralysis, etc., in addition to what they will pay for stroke, cancer or heart attack. You can use the money that the insurance company pays you to pay for life-saving drugs, Home Health Aides, nursing homes or any other expenses that arise after you are diagnosed with a covered medical problem.
The entire purpose of Critical Illness insurance is not to enrich your doctors. Critical Illness insurance is designed to allow you to pay for things that your Major Medical, Medicare or Medigap does not pay.
The thing to remember about Critical Illness insurance is that policies can differ from one insurance company to another at age 65. When you reach your 65th birthday, some insurance companies will cut your Critical Illness benefit in half. On one day you would get $100,000 if you are diagnosed with cancer. On the next day you would only get $50,000 for the same diagnosis.
A few insurance companies do not care about you reaching age 65. The amount of benefit you are paying for does not change just because you have a birthday.
If you elect to use Critical Illness insurance as a planning tool, it is imperative that you review your plan before you reach your 65th birthday.