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If a health emergency occurs, it is best to be prepared. Most emergency medical technicians and other medical providers recommend that you keep a list of emergency phone numbers easily available, that you wear your medical alert bracelet or necklace if you have one, and that you keep a list of current medications and drug allergies on you at all times. If you carry a cell phone, you should save a contact who knows both you and your medical history well as an "In Case of Emergency" contact person. If you feel a health crisis may be life threatening, you should call 911 for help or go to an emergency room right away.
Unfortunately, many people wait too long to take care of health crises because they have limited financial resources and/or convince themselves the problem is not life threatening. In these instances, medical problems often become much more complicated and expensive to treat prior to the initial health care visit. Luckily there are a number of federal and state resources designed to help people with limited financial resources handle a health emergency. Medicaid, the V.A., Salvation Army, United Way, the American Hospital Association, the Department of Social Services, and Medicare are some of the programs available to help people in health crises.
Why Is Financial Preparation Important?
Many Americans are one health emergency away from a financial crisis. Most medical bankruptcies are due to unexpected medical bills tied to a health emergency. It is important to be prepared when such an emergency hits. Older Americans can ensure they are prepared for a health crisis by obtaining health insurance prior to suffering a significant medical problem. This will provide some health care coverage and should limit their out-of-pocket medical liability.
What is Medicare?
Medicare is a federally funded, health insurance program that provides hospitalization and medical insurance coverage to disabled people, citizens over the age of 65, and low-income seniors. If you are over the age of 65 or disabled, you should enroll in Medicare as soon as possible. Approximately 99% of Americans are eligible for free Medicare coverage under Medicare Part A.
Medicare Part A is a type of hospital insurance that pays for inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing facility care, and some home health care programs. Enrollment in Medicare Part A is one way to ensure you are prepared in the event of a health emergency. Part A coverage also includes blood for transfusions, which may be necessary after certain medical crises. Additional coverage can be obtained through Medicare Part B or Medicare Advantage Plans. These plans include medical coverage for visits to doctors, lab tests, outpatient medical treatment, and some durable medical equipment. Some Medicare Advantage Plans (also called Medicare Part C) offer prescription drug coverage as well.
What Should I Know About My Medicare Plan?
To best prepare for a health emergency, you should be thoroughly familiar with all aspects of your health insurance plan, including: your annual deductibles, your coinsurance and copayment amounts, and your maximum out-of-pocket spending limits. Additionally, some plans, such as a Medicare Advantage Plan, may have rules about how benefits must be verified, which doctors and hospitals you can go to, and when to notify the plan provider that you are in need of emergency medical care. Familiarizing yourself with all of the aspects of your plan will help you avoid penalties and added expenses associated with violating plan rules—such as failing to get proper authorization for necessary services or obtaining the services of an out-of-network provider.
Are There Any Legal Issues I Should Be Aware of?
A health emergency may mean a life-threatening crisis in which you are rushed to the hospital in an unconscious or uncommunicative state. In these instances, it would be best if you had a way of letting the hospital and medical providers know what type of medical treatment you do and do not wish to receive. Both an advanced directive and a medical power of attorney are two legal documents that can provide assistance in these circumstances. An advanced directive, also known as a living will, directly dictates what types of medical treatments you authorize in the event of a health emergency during which you cannot speak for yourself. A durable or medical power of attorney lists a family member or other person as your authorized agent to speak for you in such instances. If you sign a durable or medical power of attorney, make sure you have communicated your medical wishes to the person you assign as your power of attorney, and make sure that you trust them to communicate those wishes if the need ever arises. It is a good idea to inform your primary care doctor of your medical wishes as well. You may even want to provide him or her with a copy of your advanced directive or medical power of attorney prior to any health crisis.
What Else Can I Do?
If possible, it is wise to have some savings set aside in the event of a health emergency. There are several forms of medical savings funds, including Medical Savings Accounts, Flexible Spending Accounts, and Health Savings Accounts. You can also put some money aside in a traditional savings account to be used during an emergency. Ideally, you should have at least the amount of your plan's yearly deductible saved—if you have to pay out-of-pocket for life-saving treatment, you have the money put aside to do so.
For additional information on what to do in a health emergency and what coverage your health insurance will provide in a health crisis, contact your plan provider or visit www.Medicare.gov.