11 Ways to Prevent Financial Disaster From a Serious Illness

A Good Wife and Exercise


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A Good Wife and Exercise

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As many Americans have learned during the pandemic, even people with insurance could see their savings wiped out by just one serious illness. In fact, a Commonwealth Fund survey found that some 37% of adults ages 19 to 64 who reported problems with medical bills or medical debt had used up all their savings, and some 26 percent struggled to cover necessities like food and rent. Luckily, there are steps people can take to improve their health and defend themselves against financial calamity.

Related: How Will the Pandemic Affect My Health Insurance Costs?

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Get Vaccinated

Adults getting sick with diseases that could have been prevented by vaccination costs the country billions of dollars per year. This is especially critical this year as the pandemic that has killed over 360,000 Americans continues to rage across the country. Fortunately, coronavirus vaccines are beginning to be rolled out, with healthcare workers and seniors at the head of the line. Besides COVID-19, the flu remains a concern, too. According to the CDC, more than $10 billion in hospitalizations and outpatient visits can be traced to the flu. Influenza isn't just a bad cold — it's a deadly disease. Four flu pandemics killed tens of millions of people in the 20th century alone, and influenza still kills between 3,000 and 49,000 people every year in the United States, the CDC estimates. Spare yourself, your wallet, and the people around you the danger and burden with a simple flu shot at the beginning of the season.

Related: Where to Get Cheap Flu Shots: Walmart vs. CVS vs. Costco and More

Follow Social Distancing Guidelines

Practice Pandemic Safety

The current pandemic has required a slew of preventive measures aimed at curbing its spread. Wearing face masks, practicing social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding crowded indoor spaces are all part of the current best practices for personal safety.

Related: Masks and Accessories to Make Covering Your Face More Comfortable

Health Insurance

Get Health Insurance

The Affordable Care Act reduced the number of uninsured non-elderly Americans by 20 million, according to a November 2020 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Over the prior three years, however, the number of uninsured has steadily grown, once again approaching 30 million. This is a disturbing trend. People with health care coverage, especially low-income Americans who enroll in Medicaid, are better equipped to survive financial crises spawned by medical emergencies, lengthy hospital visits, or extended care.

Related: Reduce Your Healthcare Costs With These Expert Tips for Seniors


Know Your Family Medical History

Family history can dramatically increase risk levels for many serious, expensive, and potentially deadly ailments, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Information about family medical history helps doctors assess risk, recommend screenings, and prescribe drugs — and it's especially important for people considering having children. The American Medical Association has compiled a list of resources that make it easy to gather critical family medical information.

Related: 15 Free Ways to Protect Your Heart

doctor office visit

Get Regular Checkups

Regular checkups with a primary-care provider are the surest defense against medical calamities. They alert patients to potential health issues and steps to prevent them, and make early detection of existing ailments more likely, dramatically increasing the chance of success with treatment. Schedule a doctor's appointment, get a checkup, and discuss future scheduling with a physician.

Related: 14 Costly Health Problems and How to Catch Them Early

High Blood Pressure

Get Screened for High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure tests are among the simplest and least expensive when it comes to preventing catastrophic illness. They are often free at pharmacies but serve as red flags for heart disease, the No. 1 killer in the United States. About 655,000 Americans die from heart disease every year, according to the CDC. That’s one death every 36 seconds and one in four annual deaths in the United States combined. Many of these deaths occur simply because sufferers were never diagnosed. Those who survive are often doomed to lifelong debt and financial insecurity due to chronic illness and the need for long-term medical care.

Related: 12 Healthy Habits You Can Carry Into Your 80s and 90s

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Get Screened for Cancer

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States. In 2020, more than 606,000 Americans died from cancer and another nearly 1.81 million were diagnosed, according to the National Cancer Institute. It's also extremely expensive to treat—a cancer diagnosis comes with financial stress in almost all cases. The average newly approved cancer drug costs a staggering $10,000 a month, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and some cost more than three times that. Patients are on the hook for a "significant" share of the cost, the ASCO says, in the form of deductibles, co-payments, and other out-of-pocket expenses. That makes early detection vital. Women should talk to their doctors about regular screenings for breast cancer, the most common cancer among women, as well as cervical, lung, and colon cancer. Men should focus on colon, prostate, and lung cancer, depending on age. The American Cancer Society has more age-specific information.

Related: Most Common Health Issues for People Over 60

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Maintain a Healthy Weight

More than 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and both the individual and the country pay handsomely. Health care spending for obese patients is nearly twice as expensive as spending for those with a healthy body weight. Obesity is a precursor to other illnesses that could result in expensive medical crises, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even some cancers. Losing weight can obviously be difficult, but simple lifestyle changes such as walking and cutting out sugary drinks can produce dramatic benefits.

Related: 20 Easy, Low-Calorie Dishes for Quick Weight Loss

Safe Sex

Prevent HIV/AIDS

Although it is now survivable, AIDS still has no cure and is one of the most expensive ailments to treat — an estimated $326,500 over the lifetime of a U.S. victim diagnosed with HIV at age 35, according to a 2015 study. Although there is no vaccine to prevent HIV, a few lifestyle choices can radically reduce the chance of infection: Use condoms with water-based lubricants every time; if injecting drugs, use clean needles every time, and never share them. HIV-positive people who become pregnant should seek medical care right away to reduce the chances of passing it to a baby.

Related: Why Is HIV/AIDS a Surprising Killer Among Seniors?


Don’t Smoke

If you smoke, quit. If you don't smoke, don't start. There is no safe form of tobacco, which is still responsible for nearly half a million deaths a year and $300 billion in health care and lost productivity costs across the country. Smoking has been conclusively linked to heart disease, respiratory disease, and a range of cancers. WalletHub estimates that smokers sacrifice an average of $1.2 million to $2.5 million over their lifetimes.

Related: The Top 10 Causes of Death for Men and How to Protect Yourself

Diabetes Test

Get Tested for Diabetes

Diabetes is a leading cause of death in the United States, and at least one in five of the country’s 34 million sufferers is undiagnosed — meaning about 6.8 million Americans are living with diabetes and don't even know it, according to the CDC. Diabetes can trigger problems such as nerve damage and kidney disease and pile up an avalanche of financial and physical stress. The total cost to the country is estimated at more than $327 billion annually, and people with the disease spend about 2.3 times more on medical expenses — about $16,752 each year, according to the American Diabetes Association. Eating better, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising more can help prevent the onset of some kinds of diabetes.

Related: 29 Foods Diabetics Should Avoid