A reader has lived a frugal life, but now her personal health may affect her personal finances.

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Question: I have always paid my credit card statement early each month, and I have always bought pre-owned cars in cash. Besides a mortgage that is half paid off, I have no personal debt at all.

However, for the last three months, I have been afflicted with both breast cancer and an unrelated chronic condition. That sounds awful, and it is certainly not fun. But my prognosis is actually quite good, for which I Thank God. 

Here is the financial issue: I need a variety of prescriptions that are costing me up to $1,200 a month out of pocket. That is not only outrageous, it is breaking my budget. I am now forced to run up my credit cards not only for the medication but because I will have to cut back my hours at work. 

Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I have a $12,000 credit card balance, and it is only going to grow. Is there a solution here?  

— Alexandra in New York

Howard Dvorkin answers…

I’m sorry to tell, Alexandra, that you have become a statistic. A recent, obscure report called Super Spending: U.S. Trends in High-Cost Medication Use states, “Between 2014 and 2016, the number of people representing annual medication costs of $50,000 or greater increased by 35 percent.”

That’s right, more and more Americans are facing prescription drug costs of more than $4,000 a month. In fact, three out of every 1,000 people in this study “accounted for more than 20 percent of total pharmacy spending.”

The solution to this problem is beyond me — or even the federal government and the medical industry. Those latter two entities will need to cooperate if a solution is to be found. I don’t know about you, but I’m not holding my breath.

So what can you and others like you do, Alexandra? There are options, which ironically don’t come from the healthcare sector.

Medical debt is a well-known problem in the world of credit counseling and debt management. In fact, it’s one of the leading causes of sudden debt — along with divorce, accidents, and natural disasters.

Of those leading causes, medical debt is among the most complex. It involves not only the actual expenses of treatment but also lost wages and even — as you’ve learned, Alexandra — the costs of prescription drugs that can drain a bank account long after the underlying illness is cured.

I’d urge anyone in this predicament to start with credit counseling. This is a free service from a nonprofit credit counseling agency. You’ll receive a debt analysis that will point you in the right direction. Check out Debt.com’s report, What Is Credit Counseling… And Why Do I Need It?

From there, you may end up in a debt management program, which isn’t free but will save you much more than it will cost. In the worst case, you can explore bankruptcy. You should also consider signing up for a prescription savings plan such as GoodRx which can save you money on prescription drugs.

The bottom line, Alexandra, is that you’re not alone. Even with strong family support, serious illness can make you feel like you’re all by yourself. When you add in the financial stress of medical debt to illness, that loneliness grows. I’m here to tell you: Help is out there, and it’s a phone call away.


Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and/or policies of Debt.com.

Meet the Author

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

CPA and Chairman

Dvorkin is the author of Credit Hell and Power Up and Chairman of Debt.com.

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Article last modified on December 28, 2018 Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: I've Never Been In Debt Before, But Now I'm Sick. How Do I Avoid Debt Now? - AMP.