How I Live Differently Since Getting A $77k Medical Bill

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Savings accounts are important for so many obvious reasons. However, when I was just starting out in my career, other things seemed to carry just as much importance. The hot water kettle from Target was important and the new-to-me furniture seemed crucial. The Hulu subscription was important, the organic food was important, and everything except putting something aside in that pesky savings account was completely crucial. Naturally.

But I was a grown up. Even though my bank account looked like a 15-year-old’s who occasionally babysat and then tossed a couple dollars into their Wells Fargo account, I was in a grown-up relationship, who took herself to the bank one day to combine that very small bank account with my fiancé’s.

That afternoon, to celebrate our big adult moment, Marc and I went to the river nearby our house to sit and drink a margarita from a Nalgene, as one does when they make such a big life decision. I walked ahead on the trail and spotted the perfect rock to sit on. I reached to the top of the rock to pull myself up when I felt something go into my finger. At first, I thought it was a bramble of thorns, but then the worst feeling washed over me. Holding my finger up with two fresh puncture marks, I turned to Marc. “I think I just got bit by a snake,” I said. 

“You did not, you are too calm,” he tried to assure me, until suddenly I was howling as I felt the venom burn my nerves.

Needless to say, we went to the hospital. And in the hospital, after the nurse told me that I needed to calm down and refrain from shrieking, because I was, in fact, not dying, the doctor told us the news.

“You need anti-venom, and it’s expensive,” she said.

“I have health insurance,” I cried thinking about how I concerned I was about my bank account already. Luckily, the HR fairy had blessed me when I was hired and my job came with insurance.

“Insurance doesn’t always cover it,” the doctor said. “And a typical treatment of this medicine can be $37,000.”

Marc and I looked at each other, and, in my head, I saw our already small bank account drain. Our thrifty adventure to drink a margarita by the river was turning into quite the costly affair. I just wished that my finger would stop swelling, and that we had just bought overpriced cocktails in a hipster bar instead.

I chose to get the anti-venom, which meant that, rather than having an incredibly large arm, I only had an extremely grotesque finger that horrified my coworkers and friends for a few months. We were worried about getting hit with an extremely costly bill, but it was the best course of action for my health. Here’s what I learned from the experience:

1. Savings accounts are important because even when you have health insurance, your copays might go through the roof. In the month of August, I went to the doctor more times than I could count. I needed antibiotics, gauze, to have my healing process blessed by a plastic surgeon multiple times, and I did ridiculous finger exercises with a physical therapist. The copays added up. Thankfully, we were having a pretty good financial month, but that could also be attributed to the fact that I was asleep on pain killers for the majority of it and unable to roam the wild world of Target.

2. Insurance is important. I think we all know this but trust me, it is crucial. Thankfully, my insurance covered my hospital stay and anti-venom, so all I was responsible for were my copays for the emergency room and various doctor visits. The doctor said $37k as the first random number she remembered someone being charged, but in reality, it’s $3k per vial, and they give you five vials at a time. When I finally got my hospital bill, it was just over $77,000. My insurance, thankfully, covered a lot of it, but I’ve never realized how much one incident could ruin my finances before this experience.

3. Emergency funds are IMPORTANT. Have enough in your bank account to cover emergencies and living expenses because sometimes, in the five minutes you spent outside that week, you get bit by a snake and have to lay in a bed for two weeks elevating your finger and watching Hulu.

4. Have those money conversations with your significant other. We aren’t perfect, and I’ve definitely spent too much money on bath products, but having those scary money conversations means that when big money stuff happens, it feels a bit more manageable. Also, in case of an anti-venom-related emergency, it’s important for your significant other to understand your whole financial picture.

5. Watch out for snakes. They are expensive.

My grandmother says to always put a little bit of money aside every month, even if it is as small as $5. She always says that even if you feel ridiculous putting only $5 in a savings account and worry that it will never add up, you are wrong, and it will. It just takes time and there is no shame in that. So, Financial Diet readers, I encourage you all to go put $5 (or more) in your savings account, and I hope you never have to use your emergency fund because you got bit by a copperhead snake.

Laura Guidry is a writer in NC who currently lives in an airstream on a farm. You’ll find that and all her cats on Instagram.

Image via Unsplash
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