Many people think that disabilities are rare. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in every four adults in the United States lives with a disability. Living with limitations in your daily life can be challenging, and not just physically. Recent studies have shown that living with a disability can put you at a higher risk of experiencing financial difficulty or even poverty.
You may experience financial difficulties as a complication of the disability and additional costs of living. Others might have experienced financial problems before their diagnosis or injury, which then complicates their financial status. There is yet another group of underserved people who don’t know how to access resources and may not search for money-saving tips for people with disabilities. No matter what came first, we know that once a person living with a disability is poor, the chance of them changing their financial situation is more than challenging.
Understanding Poverty and Disability The face of poverty in America has been changing for several years. The overall number of poor people has increased by 65% in the suburbs and 32.5% in cities since 2013. In 2015 alone, more than 43 million people lived in poverty, and nearly one-third of this population identified as having a disability. Living with chronic illness or physical impairments not only comes with additional medical costs, but you experience challenges finding a steady job, attending a college or other program, or being active in the community due to physical, emotional, and financial barriers.
In 2006, healthcare related to disability expenses accounted for nearly 27% of all healthcare dollars for adults in the U.S. The amount of money spent per person with a disability varied by state, with New York being the most expensive state at $18,674 in one year. Medical care is often the most significant expense when you have a disability, but costs like medications, in-home assistance, and home and vehicle modifications can take a toll on your overall financial health.
Resources are available for many of the costs that come with living with a disability, but you must be aware of the resources so that you can take advantage of them before your financial situation is too bleak. Some people may make just enough money that they don’t qualify for assistance, which can force them to make hard decisions like eating for the day versus purchasing life-sustaining drugs. Healthcare insurance in the U.S. tends to be more of a business than a fundamental human right. This can leave you declaring bankruptcy, living with relatives, or even turning to living on the streets to make ends meet.
Now that you have a clear picture of the scope of poverty and those living with a disability, let's explore a few of the hidden costs that you may experience.
Medical Expenses Living with a disability often means multiple specialists, frequent doctor’s appointments, and even one or two hospitalizations each year. Depending on your insurance coverage, you may struggle to pay your copay, yet not qualify for government assistance. Specialists often cost more per visit than a family or general practice physician. Some individuals may skip seeing a specialist for new symptoms in the hopes that their primary physician can address their concerns. Federal agencies like the National Council on Disability work tirelessly to bring awareness to the issue of poverty for those with physical, mental, or emotional limitations.
Assistive Devices and Medical Equipment Technological advancements in healthcare have created countless devices that can help you lead a healthy life. Assistive devices such as electric wheelchairs, scooters, or mechanical lifts may not be covered by insurance plans. The burden of costs for these devices is often the responsibility of you and your family. Some people may even find themselves borrowing this equipment from friends or family or purchasing used equipment which may not meet safety standards.
The social structure around providing assistive devices to those who need them isn’t as strong as required. One of the best places to find much-needed equipment is through nonprofit agencies. With a well-informed healthcare provider, you can find nonprofit organizations that provide wheelchairs, hearing aids, eyeglasses, or even trained seeing-eye dogs.
Medications Living with a chronic health condition may require multiple medication regimens to keep symptoms controlled. If your medical insurance doesn’t offer good prescription coverage, you may be forced to consider alternatives to your ordered treatments. Many people compare the costs of medications such as insulin, substitute generics for brand name drugs, or even think about foregoing their monthly prescription refills altogether if possible.
Depending on the chronic condition or disability you have, you may live with significant amounts of pain or even put your life at risk. Many pain medications are costly. Others may not be on your health insurance’s formulary, meaning that you have to pay out of pocket for these life-sustaining drugs. Without pain relief, many people with chronic conditions, like arthritis, may search for alternatives, like CBD for pain management or holistic treatments that are often paid for out of pocket.
Finding Solutions to Hidden Costs Solving the problem to poverty and disability won’t happen overnight. It takes a community of like-minded people to come together to make the needs known. It also requires specialized healthcare professionals, like social workers, to help people with disabilities overcome challenges in their physical, emotional, personal, and financial lives. We need to strive for change and continue to push forward each day to fight for equality for this population of Americans.
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