Health and Economic Costs of Dealing with Chronic Illness
September 1, 2023
While the diagnosis of a chronic illness is upsetting enough, the financial ramifications of needing ongoing care often hit the hardest. Medical issues account for two-thirds of all US bankruptcies, making them the number one reason people file; forty percent of people who are diagnosed with cancer are bankrupt within four years of their diagnosis. For those who are chronically ill, healthcare is the number three line item for budgeting, while it’s number 10 for healthy individuals.
The costs of living with a chronic illness is not limited to financial burdens though; a chronic illness can also lead to even more health and interpersonal issues.
A Decline in Mental Well-Being
Health impairments can exacerbate existing mental health conditions, like depression, or cause new issues to arise, such as anxiety. Being diagnosed with an illness that’s incurable or being unsure about whether or not the symptoms will improve is going to cause an immense amount of stress in patients. People who feel ill often may also end up feeling guilty for not being able to fulfill their personal responsibilities and show up fully for their loved ones.These mental and physical chronic conditions can lead to harmful degrees of social isolation and perpetuate a cycle of declining overall health.
When considering the connection between physical and mental health, it has been shown that those who report feeling lonely suffer from higher rates of morbidity, infection, depression, and cognitive decline. Living with a chronic illness doesn’t have to equate to a lonely life though, and may even lead to more meaningful relationships, according to Caroyn Hax, an advice columnist for the Washington Post. In her response to a reader with multiple sclerosis, she stated “Although your illness will deter some potential companions, your ability to plan it into a full, rewarding and well-managed life will attract others — specifically those people who appreciate that circumstances change but character does not.”
An Inability to Work and Losing Health Benefits
Many people suffering from chronic health issues may begin to find it difficult if not impossible to go to work consistently. Many people who deal with chronic health issues––such as Charlene Marshall who is a Pulmonary Fibrosis patient–– find it difficult if not impossible to go to work consistently. “Whether the fatigue I feel is from managing the disease or the disease progression, daily activities become exhausting and hard to manage,” she shares. Unfortunately, many people suffering from a chronic condition may begin to be viewed as unreliable by their supervisors, leading to termination, while others may need to resign as they find it impossible to keep working.
For many, losing their job also means losing their health benefits. Those who can no longer work may become reliant on spousal coverage or public assistance, which is likely why 99 percent of Medicare and 80 percent of Medicaid spending goes toward the treatment of chronic disease. Not only does the inability to work affect individuals and their families, but lower labor force participation rates affect society as a whole and are linked to slower economic growth, a higher dependency ratio, and higher tax rates.
Straining Personal Relationships
The inability to work due to chronic illness can lead to financial strain on an individual’s entire family. Not only may family members need to help pay for care, but they may also need to take time from work to care for their loved ones who are undergoing treatment that makes them ill, need help with daily activities, or have just had a major surgery. Between new bills and extended care, the financial struggles of the chronically ill can spread easily to those who care for them most.
People who have a loved one that is suffering from a chronic health condition may also experience stress, concern, and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Battling a chronic illness doesn’t always have to come with negative interpersonal effects though. Many people actually find that their relationships are strengthened through their health struggles. Marshall, for instance, shares that she is grateful for a strengthened social circle. “I’m blessed to have a network of great friends who support me despite IPF and who are always willing to listen.”
How We Can All Fight Chronic Disease
By working together, we can help build up the next generation for a healthier life through education about the prevention of many chronic diseases. Eating well, regular exercise, and avoiding substance abuse are all behaviors that may reduce the risk of becoming chronically ill. On a societal level, we can address the underlying determinants of health, including one’s environment, education, and access to healthcare. For instance, since many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and arthritis, are associated with poor diet and obesity, the FDA is currently working to make sure US eating patterns are meeting federal dietary guidelines.
If you or a loved one are struggling through a chronic illness, know that you are not alone. The CDC estimates that 6 in 10 adults living in the US have at least one chronic disease, while 4 in 10 suffer from at least two or more. Insureyouknow.org can help you keep track of medical records, doctor’s appointments, financial planning, and other important documentation regarding your health and finances. Getting organized and keeping a plan are easy ways to get more peace of mind on your life’s journey through a chronic illness.