CAREGIVER: High cost of falling ill

21 Jul 2017

WHEN I was growing up, my late mother used to tell me to always have some savings for old age. She always said: “You’ll never know when you need it.”

She insisted that we should all grow up to be financially independent because “at the end of the day, you may be the only one who can help yourself if others can’t”.

In addition to getting an education, she also insisted that we should have other skills, like cooking.

“In good or bad times, people still have to eat,” she used to say. “So it’s always good to know how to cook. At least you can still get a job feeding others and yourself too.”

That was mum’s long, roundabout way of telling us to save and work hard to prepare for the future.

But I never really understood it until the later part of her life when she needed medical care.

Not only did she want the best, but she also never wanted to get caught in a situation where she couldn’t afford it. 

She didn’t want to depend on anyone, nor did she hope that someone would take care of her bills.

If that happened, she counted herself blessed. But what if things didn’t happen as she’d hoped? She wasn’t going to take any chances on that. So she prepared for her own needs.

Mum was a visionary. She was ahead of the game. She had taken care of her children as well as her relatives.

She knew how expensive medical care could be — long hospital stays, long-term treatment for cancer or dialysis, for example, could deplete your savings.

Being in the intensive care or high dependency unit is expensive too.

Just take a look at your hospital bill the next time you or a loved one gets admitted. The average cost for a single room at a private hospital costs from RM250 upwards. You think, “Oh, that’s not too bad. Hotel rooms cost a lot more.”

Then you get billed a few thousand ringgit for two to three nights’ stay at the hospital. You wonder about the math. How did the cost escalate? Surgery, pharmaceuticals (medicine) and investigations (blood tests, X-rays) are charged. An MRI scan has a four-figure cost.

Look further into your bill and you’ll be surprised to see what is chargeable — that box of tissue paper, gauze, syringe, pill cup and disposable spit basin, among other things, that you thought were free. They all add up.

When you take your loved one home, you may need  certain things that you never needed before like glucometer, blood pressure monitor, nebuliser, oxygen tank and even a special mattress to prevent bedsores.

Some items may just be one-time purchases. Others like adult diapers are continuous costs and they’re not cheap. The cost accumulates.

Some organisations rent items like hospital beds and oxygen tanks for home use. However, you may also need assistance with caring for your loved one at home. Hiring someone to help is getting tougher and more expensive these days.

So much goes into caring for a loved one who is ill, especially someone who needs long-term treatment.

Some maintenance medications cost RM20 or more per tablet. You’re lucky to need it just once a day. 
Sometimes you may need it twice or three times a day. How about when certain treatments cost a few thousand ringgit per session and you need at least 10 sessions? That’s for one cycle. What if you need several cycles of treatment? What if there were complications? What if you needed surgery? Sometimes you might require more than one surgery.

All this can deplete your savings, money you had saved for your retirement. What if you’re caught in the sandwich generation where you have to care for your children as well as your ageing parents? 

In addition to paying for your children’s education, you probably had plans to set aside some funds for your own healthcare. But what happens when you have to dip into your savings for your elderly loved one? What if it were your grandchild? Would you have to continue working way past your retirement age?

Family caregivers are themselves ageing and have their own sets of issues, like their own health or work. Most of the time, they themselves are heading towards retirement.

When you take time off to care for your loved one, you may have had to take no-pay leave. Loss of salary affects your budget and savings.

How many of us actually plan our finances to include all these possibilities? If you have purchased some sort of insurance plan, then you’re one of the lucky few. Just be sure to read the fine print to know what’s in it for you.

If you’ve not made any plans for such a future, now might be a good time to assess your position and take action.

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