If you care for a spouse or other family member with MS you already understand the impact medical expenses can have on your family budget. The financial cost of a chronic disease like Multiple Sclerosis is high and the financial drain is constant.

I was born in the early 60’s. I went to the ER while in college and left with 6 stitches above my eye. I had a physical checkup last year. One-time medical events like these generate one-time medical expenses.

In fact, anytime a healthy person receives medical care, it’s typically a one-time event with expenses that end after the procedure is paid for and the medicine is purchased. Even to have an appendix removed, there’s an end to the expenses after the surgeon, anesthetist, lab, facility and drug fees are paid.

While one time medical events can certainly whack your budget, they do it one time. You might not like it, but when it’s over, it is over.

MS is not like that. Not at all.

Multiple Sclerosis doesn’t give you the pleasure of making a final payment and writing, “paid in full” on the check’s memo line. MS is chronic and there is no cure. From the beginning, even before the diagnosis is made, the expenses begin adding up. MRIs are expensive, spinal taps aren’t cheap, co-pays for regular neurological check ups accumulate, and the cost of MS medications is unreal. In short, it would be easy to spend more than $20,000 a year on routine MS care.

If you’re an MS caregiver, here’s a sobering bit of news: almost half of U.S. bankruptcies are related to medical expenses.

A 2005 study led by Dr. David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, found that half of U.S. bankruptcies are caused by soaring medical bills. And bankruptcy specialists reported the study’s numbers seem valid.

George Cauthen, a lawyer at the Columbia-based law firm of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, reported that he had reviewed every bankruptcy petition filed in South Carolina between 1982 and 1989. Medical bills accounted, “roughly, for about a third of all individual filings in South Carolina.” (Divorce accounted for another third.) And notice, this was in the 80’s before medical expenses began increasing at multiples of the national inflation rate.

Financial Thoughts for Caregivers

Given the sobering news about MS-related medical expenses and their impact on one’s financial life, what can one do? Here are a few tips:

1. Pay attention to your finances! Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to financial matters.

2. Save for a Rainy Day. You never know when you’ll need to access your emergency fund so you should take every opportunity to add to it.

3. Forget about the Joneses. It’s hard enough to keep up with all the details required to be a good caregiver. Give up on keeping up with the Joneses.

4. Pay down debt. This is almost an un-American concept, but in spite of what political leaders say about our “ownership society” and the recent history of loose lending, if you owe money for something, you don’t really own it.

5. Prioritize your expenditures. Most people make their house/rent payment, utility, savings and insurance payments first. You must have a place to live. Next, take care of food, medical and transportation expenses. Give to others. Finally, take care of everything else.

6. Economize. For example, if you love books, use your public library. In addition to books, most public libraries have a broad collection of movies on DVDs which you can borrow for free … just like books.

7. Ask for cash discounts when you make appointments for medical care. You might be surprised how much the cost of medical can be discounted for cash.

Caregiver Tip: MS is an expensive disease. Pay close attention to your financial situation and act with financial smarts.

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