Medical bills can pile up quickly, causing older adults on fixed incomes to put off or forgo doctor appointments and necessary treatments, all to avoid a financial burden they don’t want to carry. And the tradeoff is harrowing: a reduced quality of life.
FAIR Health, a national, independent nonprofit organization intends to shut down this all too common practice by equipping patients with online tools that pair the procedure with the actual cost of it. The information is available at FAIR Health’s free, award-winning website.
As part of an initiative funded by The John A. Hartford Foundation, FAIR Health has added a dedicated section to its online resources specifically for older adults and caregivers in the greater New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago areas.
Click on ”Older Adults” at the toolbar to gain access to clinical information and costs involved with different treatment options for early-stage breast cancer, hip osteoarthritis, hip replacement, spinal stenosis and fast-growing prostate cancer. Costs are itemized and may include not only the surgeon’s fees but also anesthesiology, pathology and office visits.
The site’s “total treatment cost” scenarios uncover the range of costs associated with three conditions most prevalent among older adults: Alzheimer’s disease/dementia, heart failure and major depression. Patients will also discover content about these conditions, relevant links to external resources, an overview of financial health literacy, particulars about Medicare and checklists with suggested questions to ask providers. All these tools are in addition to the cost information and resources FAIR Health has always provided for seriously ill patients seeking palliative care, such as breathing assistance, nutritional assistance and dialysis.
“We were approached by experts who had been making certain clinical decision-making aids available to different patient populations,” explained Robin Gelburd, president of FAIR Health. “They indicated when a patient or caregiver is exposed to decision-making aids, oftentimes the next question they have is, ‘What are the financial implications of going down one path versus another?’ Older adults can feel vulnerable in the health care system. We strive to create user-friendly actionable tools and information to enhance their health care experience.”
The intent is to add the costs associated with various treatment options to the shared decision-making process that takes place among doctors, patients and family caregivers. Cost is a component that weighs heavily on patients yet traditionally has been excluded from these discussions.
When patients can base health care decisions on their values and preferences, Gelburd noted, it’s shown to increase their engagement and satisfaction, reduce health care costs and improve treatment outcomes.
“People are thankful for the information brought to their doorstep, in a way they can understand, that demystifies the complexities of the health care system,” Gelburd said.
Marrying the procedure with the actual cost the patient may encounter, she said, dispels any confusion and allows the patient to plan for the expense.
“It’s a way to reduce some of the anxiety associated with just even accessing or entering the world of health insurance and health information.”
You wouldn’t agree to buy a house, car or other big ticket item without knowing the full cost ahead of time. The same rule should apply to health care. For many older adults, their quality of life depends on it.