For some people, a heart attack or heart surgery can cause money worries. Costs can add up, especially if you can’t work for a while, are a pensioner, or don’t have private health insurance. When you’re already coping with recovery, this can add more stress.
You’re not alone. Research shows that about half of patients who’ve had a heart attack experience some economic hardship. There’s help available, and places to go for advice.
A heart attack is classed as a pre-existing condition. That may affect insurance premiums and require special conditions or exclusions. Some companies might ask you to do a medical assessment. Contact your insurance company to find out if your coverage is affected.
Talk with your doctor before buying health insurance. Insurance companies often ask for detailed medical information. Shop around to get the best value insurance. You can still get cover with a pre-existing condition, but there might be a waiting period before you can claim.
Get ambulance cover
You should also make sure you have ambulance cover. Your private health insurance may cover you for ambulance transport, but only for emergencies, so it’s important to check. If you live in Queensland or Tasmania, ambulance cover is automatically provided.
Most people with a pre-existing heart condition can still get life and income protection insurance. But it may be more expensive and have special conditions or exclusions.
The special conditions will depend on your family history, the severity of your heart disease, and how well you have controlled it. It may mean you’re not covered for future heart-disease-related illnesses. Check with your insurance company.
Benefits and financial support
If your heart condition has affected your ability to work, to care for yourself, or your mobility, you may be entitled to some financial support and benefits.
Find out from your employer how much paid sick leave you are entitled to. Also check your insurance policies to see if they could cover some bills or replace some income. For example:
- health insurance for medical costs not covered by Medicare
- trauma cover for specified illnesses or injuries
- total and permanent disability (TPD) cover for the costs of rehabilitation, debt repayments and the future cost of living
- income protection to replace some of your income if you can’t work due to injury or sickness.
You may qualify for a concession or health care card, or for benefits like Sickness Allowance or the Disability Support Pension. Access to benefits depends on your finances, age and how long you’ve lived in Australia, as well as your health. The benefits system can be confusing, so it’s usually easiest to contact Centrelink about your circumstances.
There can be significant out-of-pocket medical costs after a heart attack. Often there’s more than one health professional involved in your care, and you may need to see them often. If it feels like it’s getting too much, discuss what is most important to you with your doctor and ask about getting a mental healthcare plan.
Check that you’re getting all the concessions you’re entitled to, like the Health Care Card, Low Income Health Care Card, or Department of Veteran’s Affairs concession card. These can help with costs of medical appointments and medicines. Your children may also be covered.
Learn more about concession and health cards.
Saving money on medicines
Talk with your doctor and pharmacist about ways to save money on medicines without compromising your health – but always check with your doctor before changing how you take your medicines.
Many medicines are available in cheaper, generic brands. They still have the same active ingredient. Ask if there is a less expensive brand of your prescription medicine.
Sometimes getting a different strength of your medicine can save money. For example, if you usually take two 100 mg tablets at once, and there’s a 200 mg tablet available, it might be possible to take one of those instead, which maybe cheaper. But always check with your doctor.
Splitting higher dose tablets to get your dose cheaper isn’t always a good idea. Some tablets have to be taken whole because of their coating, and others are hard to split accurately. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you split tablets.
PBS Safety Net
Make sure your pharmacy has your Medicare number on file. That way you will be charged the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) price. With the PBS Safety Net, you get free or cheaper prescription medicines once you’ve spent a certain amount in a calendar year.
Learn more about the PBS Safety Net.
Have your doctor or pharmacist review your medicines, to check if you’re buying ones that you don’t need. You can also get a Home Medicines Review.
Don’t be afraid to seek emergency financial help from local charities. They can help with things like food, transport, chemist vouchers, and help with bills and budgeting.
Emergency Relief provides immediate financial and/or material support to people in financial crisis. Emergency Relief services are delivered by community organisations and help people address immediate basic needs in times of financial crisis. Emergency Relief can act as a safety net for people experiencing financial distress or hardship, and who have limited means or resources to help them alleviate their financial crisis.
Access to Emergency Relief is free, however, individual service providers may have certain criteria that need to be met in order to access their particular ER service.
Your local Emergency Relief provider can be found on the DSS Service Directory.
Help with debts
If you're finding it hard to pay your debts, don't panic. Call the company you owe money to as soon as you can, and ask to speak to the hardship officer. Explain the problem and try to work out a repayment plan.
Learn more about getting help with debts.
If you need follow-up appointments after you leave hospital, see if the hospital has transport services. Check with the outpatient's department you’re booked in to attend.
You may be eligible for a Commonwealth Mobility Allowance.